Monday, August 29, 2011

Escape Act

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programme. And it's number three in the Ape franchise: Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Released in 1971 and directed by Don Taylor. Roddy McDowell returns as Cornelius having handed his ape mask to David Watson for the second film while he was away directing a film in Scotland. Kim Hunter plays Zira for the third time and and Sal Mineo is briefly in it as a third Chimpanzee called Dr. Milo.

It is Dr Milo who has set up the major plot device for this film. Apparently he recovered Taylor's sunken spaceship from the first film and has been working to understand it. With remarkable prescience the three chimps have foreseen the war and the destruction of the planet that took place at the end of the second film, and have left in Taylor's ship just in the nick of time. The explosion and shock-wave have somehow propelled them back through the same space-time thingy that Taylor and Brent encountered and they find themselves in 1970s America. This is a bit of a cheat really, we were given Taylor's time travelling as a consequence of Einsteinian time dilatation but now we have some space time portal that is apparently two way. Anyway they need that bit of physics cheating to set up the memorable scene of the three space-suited astronauts climbing out of the beached spacecraft and then shocking the welcoming party by removing their helmets to reveal themselves as Apes. Where did they get those spacesuits and helmets from anyway?

After this great opening and the further revelation that these apes are intelligent the film gets very talky for a while. Poor Dr Milo is rapidly dispatched by a depressed gorilla in the zoo. A truly terrible man in a furry suit performance by the gorilla by the way. Then Cornelius and Zira are presented to the world and get caught up in a whirl of parties, shopping and social events. Meanwhile serious men are talking serious talk in secret rooms. Zira manages to let slip pretty much the whole plot and all their secrets about mankind's future. There is a nicely sinister performance by Eric Braeden as Dr Otto Hasslein, the physicist mentioned by Taylor in the first film who now becomes the driving force in the campaign to neutralise the apes. His accent seems a little variable (German? South African?) but he's a restrained and creepy bad guy.

Once we learn that Zira is pregnant (and in convenient fashion she blurts this out herself, not very good with secrets is our Zira) then we can see exactly how the plot is going to play out and there are no surprises from then on. And here we get another huge time paradox of the sort that makes my head hurt if I think about it too  much. The sort of thing that Doctor Who cheerfully bashes through week after week. I don't think I am giving too much away if I say that Cornelius and Zira's son survives to the end of the film and sets up the next sequel and in fact the Planet of the Apes itself. But if Taylor hadn't gone into space, and if the chimps hadn't found his ship, and if ... Well, you get the idea.

Anyway, number three is a much better film than its predecessor. There's not much in the way of action but the central performances are good. There are also brief appearances from notable character actor M. Emmet Walsh (Deckard's boss in Blade Runner) and Ricardo Montalban (old wrathful Khan himself). Montalban's limp, the result of a nasty horse riding accident, is quite obvious in this film.

Despite the physics cheating and the major time travel paradox this is a much better scripted film than number two and quite a fun watch. Now onwards and upwards to Conquest!

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