Thursday, 22 December 2011

Pre-Christmas Movie Marathon:Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Next up is the 1970 sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes (Beaps?).  The film starts out with  a very tame recap of the events at the end of Planet.  Taylor (Charlton Heston briefly reprises his role!) and Nova seek out new pastures within the Forbidden Zone. They wander into some very bad special effects and Taylor falls into a rock. As this is happening, for some unexplained reason, another crew from 'our time' has closely followed the original expedition into the future, they too have crashed on Ape Earth - all being killed in the impact except for one.  With Taylor vanishing into a rock and not reappearing till the end of the film, we're stuck with Brent - a slightly prettier version of Taylor, with less chest hair and even less charisma. He steals Taylor's horse, his woman and most of his screen time. 

As if the first films religious baiting just wasn't quite enough, on top of a sequence involving bleeding Ape iconography, Beneath introduces us to a second monothestic religion which strongly resembles Christianity.  A group of psychic humans - mostly American - who sing hymns, dress like a cult and blindly worship an undetonated nuclear warhead called Alpha/Omega which possesses the power to destroy everything on the surface of Earth. Subtle enough?

The closet comparison might well be 2010 - a stylish and enjoyable sequel which lacks the punch, freshness and poeticness of the original. I commend it for being very different to Planet, something I admire about the Apes saga. Every film after the first did try and do something new. Though what slightly annoys me about this film is the carelessness by which it undoes some of the more impactful aspects of the original. Case in the point - the Forbidden Zone. In Planet, this zone is given a mythical status because the scientists knew if Ape-kind was to discover what lies within, it would rip apart the defining prinicple which binds their society together. Apes above humans, always. So the Apes casually waltzing in and seemingly being not the slightest bit perturbed by clear evidence of a previously existing, advanced, civilization, upsets what has previously been established.

Though not a scratch on Planet of the Apes, Beneath still has a cynical and bleak outlook which I really like. Combined with apocalyptic art direction and some strong sound work, the film manages to stand on its own two feet(!).

In a final symbolic gesture at the films dramatic climax, Charlton Heston destroys everything - the humans, the Apes and he hoped, any chance of further films. He probably didn't count on the Apes somehow finding a way to travel back to the present day, which is precisely what happens in the second sequel - Escape from the Planet of the Apes.