Beneath the Planet of the Apes Review

The Film

Sequels are never easy, Sci-fi sequels doubly so. In a Sci-fi you've usually used up all your good ideas in the first film. So therefore any sequel is, by definition, a pale imitation. Any success is usually the result of a new angle or development of the original idea. Aliens is a perfect example of this and Alien3 is a perfect example of the exact opposite. On the surface a sequel to Planet of the Apes seems to be a waste of celluloid. The first one was such a delightful mix of social satire and Twilight Zone moments it seems churlish to try to produce a sequel. As usual the glint of dollar signs lured the producers to make Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Heston wasn't keen and made some hefty demands in order to guarantee his (limited) appearance. His influence is obvious and in some ways beneficial. In addition to these problems the sequel was given a smaller budget ($3 million, down from $5.8 million) even though the original was a success.

The film follows directly on from the end of the first film, beginning with a recap of the original. This time round a pair of astronauts are sent on a rescue mission to find Taylor. They of course crash land on the Planet of the Apes. Taylor has in the meantime vanished into thin air in the forbidden zone leaving behind his mute girl companion, Nova (Linda Harrison). John Brent (Franciscus) teams up with Nova and they try to track down Taylor. Inevitably they get captured by the apes. At this point we discover that the gorillas led by the fanatical warlord Ursus (James Gregory) have gained the upper hand over the scientific establishment. Ursus has persuaded Dr Zaius that they must march on the Forbidden Zone and destroy the beings that live there. They reason that talking humans must come from that area so they invade. In the meantime Brent and Nova have been captured and have escaped from the apes on numerous occasions with help from Cornelius and Zira. Eventually they find the true dwellers of the forbidden zone. The Apes wage war and the climatic end signals a new era.

Actually describing the main meat of the film makes it sound more interesting than it actually is. This film isn’t half as clever as the first one. The parallels between science and religion have been replaced by the conflict between science and the gorilla war machine. Not as potent a comparison as you might expect. The major problem with the film is the inconsistencies with the original. Brent and his companion are on a rescue mission… why? The whole point of Heston’s first mission was that it was a one-way trip to colonise new worlds. So why would they send a rescue party? Secondly Brent mentions several times that they passed through a weird time warp which pushed them to the year 3955. Again in the first film the time passage is explained as a perfectly normal phenomena resulting from light speed travel. This stretched my willing suspension of disbelief to the limit. The film in places feels like a poor rerun of Planet of the Apes, the humans get captured and escape ad infinitum. This isn’t to say the film isn’t without merit. The introduction of the forbidden zone and its inhabitants is very clever and leads us to a remarkable conclusion that rivals the first.

The acting is also poor compared to the original. Heston hardly appears at all and his human replacement, Franciscus is nowhere near as good an actor. An even more heinous crime was to replace Roddy McDowall with David Watson in the part of Cornelius. McDowall was not available but that is no excuse, they should have just written him out. David Watson is atrocious as an ape, his movement is all wrong, fortunately he isn’t in the film for very long. Kim Hunter (Zira) and Maurice Evans (Dr Zaius) are both fantastic, as they were in the first film, but are criminally underused here. The biggest plus point has to be James Gregory as Ursus, a brash and commanding performance throughout.

The drop in budget is unfortunate and especially apparent in the makeup department. The makeup on the main actors is as good if not better than the first film. However, look at any crowd scene and you’ll see the dodgy makeup on the extras from a mile away.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes is not an awful film. It is just unlucky to have followed such a classic. It has a lot of positive points; the film is darker, edgier and it has a sense of doom about it. The ape society is fleshed out quite well and we get a better overall picture of the world. Definitely worth watching but don’t expect any miracles.

The Disc

The disc under the microscope here is of course the second disc of the Evolution box set (the first is reviewed here). The menus are attractive and functional and there are 24 chapter stops.

Unfortunately, like the first disc this one is also a 2.35:1 non-anamorphic print. The picture is crisp and fairly sharp, however it is a slightly softer transfer than the first disc. There is no noticeable print damage and no digital artifacting I could see. Again the lack of an anamorphic print is disappointing but this is yet another top quality non-anamorphic transfer.

Unlike the first disc in the box set we have no 5.1 mix here. Instead we have a Dolby Surround 2.0 channel mix. It’s a perfectly accomplished mix, dialogue is clear, the effects and music sound crisp.

The extras are almost non-existent. We have exactly the same trailers as the first disc for a start. There is also a small collection of production photos, good, but not enough of them. Finally there is a cast and crew section, which is the usual plain text list.

This is a deeply average sequel with a few high points, matched by a deeply average disc from Fox. The non-anamorphic transfer is very good and the sound is functional. The extras are disappointing but those of us with the box set have a bonus disc to look forward to.

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