Escape from the Planet of the Apes Review

The Film

Well this film takes us over the halfway point in the Apes film saga. Heston wanted there to be no more sequels, so he insisted on an ending to Beneath the Planet of the Apes that would prevent any more. He should have known better… Movie producers and executives will always find a way to resurrect a franchise. This time round Roddy MacDowall is back as Cornelius (thank the lord) but the budget is cut yet again (this time down to $2.5 million).

The film begins in the present day (the early 1970’s in this case), an Earth ship lands containing three apes Cornelius (McDowall), Zira (Hunter) and Milo (Mineo). It turns out that these three left the Planet of the apes in 3955 just before the ape/mutant war reached its conclusion. The apes are whisked away to a zoo to try to find out 1) where Taylor is and 2) how these apes managed to operate the spacecraft. Resident animal psychologists, Lewis (Dillman) and Stevie (Natalie Trundy) quickly discover the apes can talk. A Senate hearing is convened and the public find out about the apes. As a result they become instant celebrities. Dr Hasslein of the commission is more than a little suspicious and he is determined to discover where they are from and what their intentions are.

After the relative disappointment of Beneath the Planet of the Apes this film manages to partially rescue the series. Certainly the method by which the franchise is resurrected is intriguing and cleverly sets up the story arc for the final two films. There are huge continuity errors here as there were in Beneath the Planet of the Apes . The apes manage to find Taylor’s ship, fix it, dry it out and fuel it in the space of the couple of days after Brent leaves them. They also construct spacesuits out of thin air as the originals were destroyed in the first film. They manage all of this with no advanced technology whatsoever. The principle idea of the film is ostensibly a re-run of the first film except this time the apes are the “strangers in a strange land”. Some humans are nice to them and some are nasty. This gives the film a familiar feel to it but it still seems remarkably fresh. The humorous points in the first thirty minutes are a delight and the last thirty minutes of drama leading to a moving conclusion have to be seen to be believed. Unfortunately the film sags in the middle and could have been tightened up considerably. The concept of talking apes doing everyday things is charming for ten minutes but this film tries to drag it out to at least twenty. Also Dr Hasslein (Braeden) starts out as a fairly affable scientist of German extraction and ends up sounding like a member of the Gestapo. I realise that the parallel is intentional but it is clumsy and overdone (the fourth film covers this fascism far better).

The story this time is strong and for the most part character-led as there is very little action compared to the first two films. This plays right into the hands of McDowall and Hunter who both put in fantastic performances as Cornelius and Zira. Roddy McDowall can make you laugh with a simple twitch of his face. The makeup is exemplary, as there are only three apes to do in this film. The rest of the cast are competent support for the two stars. Trundy and Dillman are quite obviously no more than support for McDowall and Hunter and as such there is little room for growth. Braeden as Dr Hasslein makes the most of his part, appearing suitably sinister and untrustworthy from the beginning. A special mention must go to Ricardo Montelban who is superlative as Armando the circus man. I know he is a terrible over-actor but I can’t help enjoying him when he is onscreen (must come from my love for Star Trek II).

Escape from the Planet of the Apes is a damned good film. It isn’t as good as the original (none of the sequels are) but it is a good step in the right direction after the relative disappointment of Beneath the Planet of the Apes .

The Disc

Disc three in the Evolution box set is the weakest yet. The discs are getting more and more sparse as the box goes on. On this disc we have another set of very good illustrated menus with 27 chapter stops for the film itself.

I will begin to sound like a broken record, but here we have a 2.35:1 non-anamorphic print (the same as every disc in this box set). Again the lack of an anamorphic print is disappointing. However this is another top quality non-anamorphic transfer. The picture is clear of print damage (for the most part) and has no visible artifacting. It is sharp but I’m afraid that this time the colours are a little washed out.

The soundtrack is a step down the scale from the first two discs that were DD5.1 and DD2.0 respectively. This time the film is demoted to a DD mono track. It is a clear functional good quality mix and it has to be said that this film doesn’t really need a swooping surround sound track.

The extras on this disc are pitiful. We get exactly the same trailers as we did on the first two discs, a cast list and a web link. In other words nothing of note whatsoever.

This is an accomplished sequel that has been letdown by Fox with this disc. The transfer is very good and the sound is competent. But this film deserves more in the way of extras. Yes the box set has the documentary disc (review to follow soon) but certain films in this series deserved more and this is one of them.

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