Planet of the Apes (Ultimate Collector’s Edition) - Return To The Planet Of The Apes Review
It's not possible to feel nostalgia for a television show that you don't actually remember but within seconds of inserting Disc 1 of this set and pressing play, I was instantly taken back to the cartoons classics of the mid-seventies, of Valley Of The Dinosaurs, of Battle Of The Planets, of Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle and Space Sentinels. Without a toy in the shops to promote, these were simply animated treats in the post-homework weekday schedules or in the Saturday morning Swap Shop slot, thrown in somewhere between John Craven, Posh Paws, Noel Edmonds or Keith Chegwin being buffeted in a car park both by the wind and by kids holding unwanted gifts aloft, hoping to swap Scrabble! for Tin Can Alley.
What Return To The Planet Of The Apes delivered was a perfect summary of the 1968 film and its sequels but one without any of their complexity. Instead, the series focussed on the thrill of humanity's flight from the apes, distilling the events of the films and of Pierre Boulle's La Planète des Singes into a series of short adventures with titles inspired by the likes of The Hardy Boys - Flames of Doom, Tunnel of Fear, Terror on Ice Mountain and Trail to the Unknown are typical titles. Short and to the point, there's a classic sense of the cliffhanger about each episode, with each predicament looking lost until a solution presents itself with only minutes to go. Were it a book, Return To The Planet Of The Apes would be a classic page turner - that similarity to the Hardy Boys once again - and as Franklin W. Dixon's creation will see you reading just one more chapter, that is if you haven't grown tired of the adventures of Frank and Joe Hardy, then so will you argue the toss over the matter of a few more minutes of Return To The Planet Of The Apes.
The actual story of the cartoon concerns three astronauts - Bill Hudson, Judy Franklin and Jeff Allen - travelling in the spaceship Venture who leave Earth in 1975 and return in 3979, discovering that humankind, who have lost the power of speech, now live in caves and are under threat from the dominant species of apes. With Bill having been captured and Judy lost underground following an earthquake, Jeff avoids all contact with apes in search of what humanity exists in the desert outside of Ape City but realises that centuries of oppression has left them fearful of apekind. Meanwhile, in Ape City, Bill is being studied by Drs Zira and Cornelius, who name him Blue-Eyes, but as reports reach General Urko of Bill being able to speak, Zira and Cornelius allow him to escape before Urko arrives at their lab to take custody of him. As stories spread in the press about this human, Dr Zaius, who doesn't quite believe Urko's story about a talking human orders the general to bring this man in as proof. But with Zira and Cornelius aiding him, its a constant battle between Urko and the three astronauts to aid humankind whilst also avoiding Urko's troops.
All of that is largely established in the opening episode but unlike the live-action television show, Return To The Planet Of The Apes does have some basis in the world of the original films. With different budgetary constraints to Planet Of The Apes, the animated show can portray Ape City has being technologically advanced and Urko's gorilla soldiers are more often seen riding in armoured trucks than on horseback. Whilst not yet having mastered flight - a storyline in the second half of the series finds Urko attempting a coup after discovering a WWII fighter plane - there's a good deal of vehicles scattered about, even a van driven by a truck driver whose radio is tuned to some ape-themed country'n'western. Otherwise, though, Return Of The Planet Of The Apes appears to find in between Beneath... and Escape From..., with there being mention of Brent, Zira, Nova, Cornelius and Zaius as well as telepathic humans who live beneath the surface of the Earth, here ruled by Kraydor who believes Judy is USA (pronounced 'Oosa'), a female messiah whose arrival they have been awaiting.
As for the look of the show, it was produced by DePatie-Freleng Enterprises, creators of The Pink Panther animated television series, but actually looks much closer to a Filmation production, and therefore similar to animated The Hardy Boys, Star Trek: The Animated Series, Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, Flash Gordon, Space Sentinels and He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. The animation isn't of a particularly high standard - animated sequences are reused a great deal, as are backgrounds, locations and, least forgivably, plots - but prior to the marketing opportunities afforded by merchandising, most made-for-television animation looked like this so it doesn't really stand out from other such shows of that era.
But with its incorporation of some of the cast of the original films and its pursuit of action at the expense of a decent ongoing storyline, Return To The Planet Of The Apes has struggled to enter Ape-canon. That it has been included in this Ultimate Collection is surprising but no less so than Tim Burton's reimagining of the story some twenty-six years later, of which more later.
Flames of Doom: Jeff, Bill and Judy travel through space and time and arrive on a strange planet that appears to be ruled by humans. As Bill is captured for study and Judy falls into a crack in the ground opened during an earthquake, Jeff is left alone to search for help but finds that the humans he meets are no more than primitive cavemen.
Escape from Ape City: With Bill under study in Ape City, Jeff takes refuge with Nova and the other humans in the desert caves but are forced to leave when General Urko launches an attack against them. With the help of Cornelius and Zira, Bill escapes and goes in search of Jeff.
The Unearthly Prophecy: With Urko advancing into the desert in search of them, Jeff and Bill are forced underground looking for help from the Underdwellers, a race of telepathic humans, but find a surprise waiting for them - Judy is alive!
Tunnel of Fear: Bill and Jeff sneak back into Ape City under cover of darkness to ask Cornelius and Zira for help. Avoiding Urko's troops and a giant mutant spider, they listen as Cornelius tells them about New Valley, a place where they'll be safe from Urko. But can they get the humans there in time?
Lagoon of Peril: To prove the existence of the talking humans, Urko demands that Zaius accompany him out to where Bill and Jeff's spaceship landed. With Cornelius warning them of this, Bill, Jeff and Nova set out to destroy their craft but something awaits them in the waters of the lagoon!
Terror on Ice Mountain: Within an ancient ruin, Cornelius finds an ancient book, A Day At The Zoo but he realises that such subversive literature could prove dangerous. So he and Bill set off for the mountains where a holy sect is rumoured to live, who could protect the book until the time is right to announce its discovery.
River of Flames: Kraydor and Judy contact Bill and Jeff asking for their help. The volcano over which the Underdwellers live is threatening to erupt and the lava is almost upon their reactor. Should the reactor fail, the entire planet is doomed. Bill and Jeff must reroute the lava before it is too late!
Screaming Wings: Bill, Jeff and Judy are on their way to the human settlements when they see human shapes in the desert! Are there really humans there or are they targets for Urko's new weapon - a WWII fighter plane?
Trail to the Unknown: With rafts to help move the humans on once more, this time to a lush green valley where they'll be left alone, Bill, Jeff and Judy find not only a wrecked spaceship but also its pilot, Ron Brent!
Attack from the Clouds: One night in Ape City, there's panic as a giant flying lizard attacks. Believing that the humans are behind this, Urko and his troops set off to capture both the lizard and those responsible for it. But Jeff, Judy and Bill have no knowledge of this creature until, that is, it attacks them!
Mission of Mercy: When Nova falls ill, Bill, Jeff and Judy realise that her only hope is that they contact Cornelius for a serum that will cure her. But with little aviation fuel left for the plane they stole from Urko, Bill and Jeff set out by road. Will they get the serum in time?
Invasion of the Underdwellers: Burglars are striking all over Ape City and there's a panic when reports come of it being the fault of the human Underdwellers. Judy contacts Kraydor, who denies responsibility, so she, Jeff and Bill set out to prove that the burglars are really Urko's troops, looking for support in one last great strike against the humans.
Battle of the Titans: After his framing of the Underdwellers, Urko has been relieved of duty and opinion in the Simian Council is swinging back towards the scientists. Cornelius believes that it is now time to present A Day At The Zoo and sets out with Bill to retrieve it. But the giant flying lizard is not finished with them yet!
All episodes last for approximately twenty-four minutes.
They're asking full price for this? Whilst television animation has come on a great deal in the past thirty years, there's not much excuse for the quality of the picture here. Coming to DVD without much remastering of the picture, if indeed any has taken place, you'll often be watching Return To The Planet Of The Apes through what looks to be a thin gauze with a good deal of dirt in the image as well as scratches, print damage and smearing of the picture. Whilst there isn't a great deal of noise in the image, there is some but with so many other, much greater faults, were it any more noticeable, it would simply be adding insult to injury.
The audio track is so much better than the video transfer but not without its own problems. Being 2.0 Mono, there isn't any separation in the channels nor use of the rear speakers but it's decent enough nonetheless. Indeed, whilst generally pretty good, there's still some background hiss but the bigger problem is the quality of the voice acting, which isn't of a high standard, with the actors sounding no less interested in the material than they would be in cricket scores. Finally, there are English and Spanish subtitles on all thirteen episodes.
There are no extras on this DVD.