BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, the first sequel to the classic PLANET OF THE APES (1968), is a disappointing, quickie follow-up that vainly tries to imitate the look of the original on an obviously limited budget, and for the most part, eschews the philosophical, social, and racial
subtext of the first film in favor of straightforward shoot-em-up action and comic-strip characters.
After discovering that the planet ruled by apes which he had arrived on was really post-nuclear Earth, some 2000 years in the future, US astronaut Taylor (Charlton Heston) disappears while exploring the Forbidden Zone with his mate Nova (Linda Harrison). Brent (James Franciscus), another astronaut sent after
Taylor, lands on the planet and is taken to the ape city by Nova, where he's hidden by the friendly chimp scientists Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (David Watson). Brent and Nova are eventually captured by a gorilla named Ursus (James Gregory), a military leader who wants to lead a holy war on
the mysterious inhabitants of the Forbidden Zone, but they escape with Zira's help.
In the Forbidden Zone, Brent discovers the subterranean ruins of what he realizes used to be New York City, but is captured again, this time by a group of human mutants with telepathic powers who worship a live atom bomb. Brent is locked up in a cell by the mutants, and finds that his cellmate is
Taylor, another abductee. The mutants use hypnotism to get the two men to fight each other, but Nova interrupts the guard's telepathy and sacrifices herself in order to allow Taylor and Brent to escape. When Ursus and his troops storm the mutants's lair and battle them, Taylor and Brent try to
prevent the detonation of the bomb, which they have discovered is a doomsday device, but they're both shot by the apes. Before dying, Taylor presses the detonation button and destroys the entire world.
Following the phenomenal box-office success of PLANET OF THE APES, Fox immediately ordered up a sequel, but Charlton Heston had no interest in doing it. Studio chief Richard Zanuck begged Heston to appear, and he finally agreed to do so for free, as a way of paying back Zanuck for greenlighting
the original, but only on the condition that he die in the first scene. Zanuck suggested that he disappear in the first scene and then come back at the end of the film for his grand exit, and Heston accepted. Ironically, however, Heston's presence only succeeds in pointing out the deficiencies of
BENEATH, and the film compounds the unfavorable comparison by beginning with the classic final scene from the first one, where Taylor discovers the half-buried Statue of Liberty. Under the inelegant, zoom-crazy direction of Ted Post, a TV-western journeyman who was never more than a competent
craftsman, and was only hired because Franklin Schaffner, the original film's director, was busy making Fox's PATTON (1970), the entire film resembles nothing so much as a futuristic B western. Indeed, the most excitingly staged scene in the picture is shot and edited exactly like a western stunt
sequence, where Brent escapes from a stagecoach-like prison and jumps onto the horses to grab their reins while being chased by a posse of armed gorillas.
The basic satirical premise of the story remains intriguing, but apart from a rather heavy-handed peace protest allusion to Vietnam, the script retains little of the political and allegorical commentary regarding the future and man's inhumanity to man which distinguished the masterly original by
Rod Serling and Michael Wilson. Since writer Paul Dehn (who had co-written the screenplay for GOLDFINGER), also wrote the screenplays for the third and fourth films in the series, both of which are vastly superior to this, the blame for dumbing it down should probably go to Zanuck, who was only
interested in a fast and cheap commercial sequel (and was also evidently interested in Linda Harrison, the beautiful actress who played Nova, whom he subsequently married). In a 1998 APES making-of documentary, Zanuck amazingly still claimed that he wasn't aware of the first film's deeper
meanings and thought of the series as pure escapist entertainment.
Because of the financial crisis that Fox was undergoing in the late '60 in the wake of such big-budget flops as HELLO, DOLLY! (1969) and STAR! (1968), the studio enacted severe cost-cutting measures on all its films, and while the first APES movie had a budget of nearly $6 million, BENEATH's was
less than half that figure. Accordingly, the unique costumes and sets of the original are recycled here without any imagination and the so-called special effects are frequently laughable, particularly the giant videoscreen-wall in the mutants' cave, and some shoddy process work depicting the ruins
of such Manhattan landmarks as Radio City Music Hall and the Fifth Avenue Public Library building, which were cheaply achieved by cutting up photographs and optically enlarging them as backgrounds. Only John Chambers's special ape makeup design remains as extraordinary as ever, and the
mask-covered deformed faces of the mutants is a creepy addition. The bland and unsmiling James Franciscus (who was no doubt hired because of a slight resemblance to Heston--Zira even mistakes him for Taylor at first) lacks the stature of the real Chuck, who looks to be under extreme duress when he
does come back at the end, and seems to yelling at the filmmakers as he clutches his bleeding heart and shouts, "It's doomsday, you bloody bastards" before blowing up the whole universe. (Violence.)
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