Escape from the Planet of the Apes DVD

Beverly Hills chimps

With the world apparently destroyed at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes (Oops! Um… spoiler!), no one thought it likely that there would be another sequel. The box office tally, however, disagreed with them. The filmmakers came up with a brilliant idea: why not reverse the premise?

And so we find a trio of chimpanzees from the far-off future landing in a spaceship off the coast of 1970s California. Two of the chimps are the familiar “animal psychologists” Dr. Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter). The third is the convenient stranger Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo), who is a very ingenious chimp indeed. Somehow he has managed to salvage the wreckage of one of the humans’ spaceships (which appeared in previous episodes to be ruined beyond repair), fix it up, figure out how everything works, and launched the three of them off the planet before the bomb exploded.

The chimps are escorted by authorities to a zoo. According to Milo’s theory, the nuclear weapon created a warp in space and time, transporting them back into the past. This is what’s known in Latin America as “deus ex machina”, or “pretend science”. Dr. Milo, the chimpanzee equivalent of Einstein and Edison put together, then stupidly stands too close to the cage of a primitive 20th Century gorilla and gets himself killed.

It doesn’t take long for the true intellect of the chimps to be revealed to the human in charge of them. Before they can be stopped by paranoid government authority in the form of White House Science Advisor Dr. Otto Hasslein (Eric Braeden, star of Colossus: the Forbin Project), news of the talking apes gets out, causing a media sensation.

The middle section of the film, which shows Zira and Cornelius becoming popular public figures, is probably the reason this entry is regarded as a favorite in the Apes series by many. A montage of scenes featuring the pair charming audiences during press conferences and talk show interviews, and their reaction to modern human (especially American) civilization, provides plenty of opportunity for humor and satire. Much of it is in the same spirit as Pierre Boulle’s original novel. The lampoon of a media blitz set the format for similar sequences in films like Ghostbusters.

But the party is soon over, and things head downhill toward the typical bleak ending. The covert investigation of the Kissinger-like Hasslein and his men turns up the idea that the ape army had something to do with the eventual end of the world. Hasslein, whose operation works more like the CIA than a scientific counsel, takes steps to insure that the pregnant Zira has an abortion, so that the reign of apes can never get started. The chimps escape long enough for Zira to give birth to little baby Milo, but it’s not long before the troops are on their trail, with orders to shoot to kill.

Director Don Taylor was a former character actor. Like previous Apes series directors, Taylor used his entry to step up from TV series to theatrical features. However, Escape from the Planet of the Apes remains his biggest hit, and most of his features since have been of the made-for TV variety.

Like the other films in the limited edition “Evolution” box set, Fox has made all the films in the series available on simply gorgeous THX mastered widescreen DVDs. Escape marked Jerry Goldsmith’s return to the series, but the mono sound on this disc doesn’t do justice to his creative score. There are no “deluxe” extras. However, the amusing trailer is included here.

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