Beneath the Planet of the Apes is a fair sequel, but isn't quite as satisfying
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The second movie in the Planet of the Apes series is definitely not my favorite. I don't hate it, but it just doesn't ... do it for me. I'll get into why later.
First, the setup.
The movie follows an astronaut named John Brent (James Franciscus) who lands in his own space pod, having been sent to find out what happened to the previous mission. He finds a lady wearing scantily clothing--Nova (Linda Harrison)--who happens to have Colonel Taylor's dogtags around her neck. She can't speak, but he tags along and he eventually discovers the same ape civilization as his predecessor.
After the first movie, where Taylor (Charlton Heston) found out that this strange and inhospitable planet was ... ghasp! ... merely a future Earth(!) [oh, uh, spoiler alert! But seriously, I think the statute of limitations has run out on this one] the audience was just dying to know more.
This one gives them more, but at the same time, delivers a bit less heart and actually doesn't answer the biggest question on our mind: What the @#!%*& happened here?
Brent discovers a subterranean civilization of humans with tremendous mental powers and the worst case of full-body eczima you've ever seen. We learn that they live near and worship a massive nuclear bomb. A bomb that was designed as an end-all, last-resort, full-blown dooms day device.
Again, we're left scratching our head regarding just what in the history of this world led up to the creation of this device, on top of the emergence of a race of sapient simians.
Not that I believe that every question must be answered. On the contrary. Unanswered questions are a storyteller's best friend at times.
No, what I have issue with is just how dark and hopeless everything is.
Now, it's a tradition with these Ape movies that you end on a bit of a sour note. But even when Taylor came across the Statue of Liberty at the end of the first one, even when he learned the true fate of the planet he was already afraid would destroy itself, we knew that he still had his his whole life ahead of him.
Now that sounds corny, but it's true. It was a generally happy ending up to that point. He was riding off into the sunset with his mute mate by his side, and he was looking forward to life outside his cage. How does discovering the truth of the Earth's fate change that? He knew it was thousands of years since he'd left. No matter what, the Earth he knew was gone and he'd never make it back there. Yes it's sad, but it's a backdrop to his story, not an indicator of things to come.
This one, however, doesn't quite do that. Things go from bad to worse. Then the whole situation jumps right out of the frying pan and blows up the entire world.
Yeah, a bit of a downer.
I even understand that the ending was Charlton Heston's idea. He didn't want to get roped into doing a whole series of these movies, so he worked it out to where he barely appears in this one, then blows up the world. Little did he know that even that couldn't stop Hollywood.
To paraphrase Westley from The Princess Bride: Death cannot stop science fiction. All it can do is delay it for a while.
Now, that being said, it's competently made, despite the low budget. They had to cut several corners. For instance, in scenes involving large number of apes, if you look at the apes in the background, several of them are merely wearing ape masks, not the prosthetics that would allow them to emote and talk.
On an unrelated note, this is also the only one of this five movie series that doesn't contain new footage of Roddy McDowall. His character is seen at the beginning with footage from the previous movie. After that, Cornelius is played by (David Watson). McDowall returns in the next movie as Cornelius, then the next two as Cornelius' son, Caesar.
On the whole, however, it's still a gem of classic sci-fi. Though it doesn't stand that well on its own. It really only survives as an appendage of a rather ground breaking series.
For me, I give it 7 / 10.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes is rated G, though it does have a fair amount of violence. And not even bloodless violence. With the subject matter and content, it would probably get a PG-13 if it were released today. A soft 13, but it feels a little more than a PG.
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