Beneath the Planet of the Apes on DVD

Talk about underground films….

Not every hit film demands a sequel. Sure, there’s been talk over the years about The Graduate 2, Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind, and Prettier Woman, but so far the filmmakers of many big hits have managed to resist the lure of another cash-in. Not so Arthur P. Jacobs, producer of Planet of the Apes. Not only did Jacobs produce a hit sequel, but he continued to build on the popularity of the Apes phenomenon throughout the 1970s.

For scripts, he turned to Goldfinger writer Paul Dehn, who continued to write for the remainder of the series. Like the original’s Schaffner, director Ted Post had a heavy history in television, turning in episodes of Gunsmoke, Thriller, Perry Mason, and The Defenders. His only other notable theatrical credit is for the unintentional campfest The Harrad Experiment. Perhaps this is why Beneath the Planet of the Apes engages one as a rousing sci-fi action adventure, much in the spirit of those to which we’re now familiar. The apes themselves are nearly shunted aside in their own movie, which concentrates more on the mystery of the Mutants, and the struggle of the heroes caught between two powers. The scene where Brent is interrogated stands as one of the best film representations of hostile telepathy, pulled off simply with acting and sound effects. But for many, the film is ruined by a downbeat ending. At the time, this was in fashion, though some were certain there was no way to continue the series afterward.

Filling in for the vacationing Taylor is guest astronaut John Brent, who has just crashed his spaceship nearby. Brent is played by James Franciscus, a popular leading man who many remember fondly from television (Longstreet, Naked City) and features (Maroooned, Cat o’ Nine Tails). Others not-so-fondly recall his work in Killer Fish and Butterfly. A few will never get over the bitter fact that he served as the voice of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Brent is the lone survivor of a rescue mission sent in search of the missing Taylor – which is a bit farfetched, considering Taylor’s voyage was supposed to last for thousands of years. Brent’s dying commander (Tod Andrews, trying to live down a resumé that includes Return of the Ape Man, From Hell It Came and Voodoo Man) spends one of his last breaths reporting the date as 3955 – a date that makes it likely that the Statue of Liberty would have rusted to dust by then. Brent immediately runs into Nova, who leads Brent to the Ape City to find Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (David Watson, filling in for the vacationing Roddy McDowall).

He finds the apes having a big rally led by gorilla General Ursus (James Gregory), who is urging the apes to not only wipe out the wild human population (“The only good human is a dead human!”), but to expand their territory into the Forbidden Zone, where they’ve also noticed the activity Taylor encountered. Brent and Nova get caught by the gorillas, but escape with Zira’s help.

Brent manages to make his way into caves in the Forbidden Zone and encounters the underground remnants of the New York City subway system. If you thought Taylor a little dense for taking so long to figure out what planet he was really on, it’s positively painful to watch Brent go from one familiar signpost after another before the obvious finally dawns on him. By then it’s too late – mutant humans with great telepathic powers attack and lock up the invaders.

Having captured Charleton Heston and James Franciscus using their formidable mind-control powers, the Mu-tants do what any of us would do in the same situation. They force them to fight each other to the death, like a pair of roosters on Cinqo de Mayo.

“Take that, Moses!”

“Unh! Well, this is for Gwangi!”

Fortunately for them, the ape army has been making their way toward the Mutants’ underground headquarters, and interrupt by attacking just in time. What the apes fail to realize is that those crazy Mutants still worship a functioning super nuclear bomb, and they’re just itching for an excuse to push the Big Red Button.

Despite a few glitches and pretensions in the script, why

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. Those that pick up the discs shouldn’t expect the kind of lavish extras on each disc that accompanied Fox’s Alien discs. That kind of deluxe treatment has been relegated to a 2-hour documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes on an extra sixth disc included in the box set. However, one can access the trailer and a gallery of stills on this disc.

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One Response to Beneath the Planet of the Apes on DVD

  1. Pingback: Behind the Planet of the Apes DVD | Psychotronic Film Society

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