“Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” was the last of the original “Planet of the Apes” series I saw. I remember how much it weirded me out initially and when I heard about the time travel plot of the next movie didn’t have much desire to watch on. Now that time has passed, it is better than what I remember, but still has a lot of problems.
The premise of this movie picks up where the first film left off. Taylor has seen the destroyed Statue of Liberty and that humanity destroyed itself and he and Nova continue deeper into the Forbidden Zone. While they are there Taylor goes missing and a new astronaut named Brent arrives on the planet to find the astronauts who went missing. The story picks up with him as he finds Nova and the story unfolds from there.
Pros: The music – The music is once again great and haunting. It captures the post apocalyptic feel really well.
Zira – Zira is once again one of the strongest characters. The sad thing is we only see her in the middle of the film when she takes in Brent and Nova and helps them escape. She is the one who is idealistic and lives through action. She doesn’t speak up when Cornelius hits her though (which is one of the horrid themes in this film). Great job, once again to Kim Hunter.
Dr. Zaius – Dr. Zaius is once again one of the strongest characters. When he and General Ursus enter the Forbidden Zone, it is he who risks the illusion of the burning and bleeding lawgiver to reveal to the army it is an illusion. Maurice Evans is once again one of the strongest actors.
General Ursus – He is simple but is great in his own way. He is the first named Gorilla to appear in any of the films and is the primary protagonist of this film (Dr. Zaius didn’t want to conquer the Forbidden Zone). He is Xenophobic and and a tyrant showing the dangers of unchecked military power especially when it is backed by religious authority (Dr. Zaius). James Gregory does a great job.
The idea of the Mutants – I think the Mutants in execution weren’t done so well. But they are needlessly evil and crazy. I would have liked at least one good mutant just like we see good apes via the Chimpanzees. The idea of people twisted by Nuclear War and worshiping death is pretty cool though. I think they were trying to critique the worship of death that can happen in some religions, it just wasn’t executed very well.
George Taylor – For what little time he is around, Charlton Heston does a great job. He has a lot more emotion and character than Brent who is a character akin to Nova except he can speak.
Okay: Cornelius – His character is the one once again trying to save face, though still carry on the knowledge of the past. He hits Zira for no reason though and threatens to do so again which is why I will not put him as a pro. It is like needless character assassination to have his character do that.
The Ending – Everyone dies. This would have been more powerful if we’d had more time with the characters we cared about or Nova and Brent had actually been fleshed out as characters. The Bomb that the mutants worship is used to destroy the Earth.
Cons: The violence against women – I bring this up because it happens a lot in this film. From the mutants using Brent to abuse and rape Nova…to Cornelius hitting Zira. The women are only in this movie to be victims…accumulating in Nova being killed by the apes when the apes invade the Underground.
The Execution of the Themes – The execution of the themes was very poor. I can see them trying to critique religion via the worshipers of the Bomb but no religion worships technology and their words ended up being more comedic than meaningful or critical. “The Holy Fallout.” As an expression for an example. They also could have used how religion can turn people against one another…but all they manage to capture is the hypocrisy of some religious claiming their religion to be peaceful while condoning or acting with violence. The military as a weapon of corrupt authority is never fully explored either since we don’t know what happened to the Chimp protesters since we never see them after their appearance and Ursus never does anything to Zira or Cornelius even though they are heretics.
No Protagonist and Lack of Focus – There are a few people who drive the plot at different points…Taylor at the beginning and end, and Brent through the middle and Zira at one point too. We also have Dr. Zaius drive it at a few points as well whether for or against Ursus. This lack of focus took away from the narrative of the story.
Brent – Is a cipher. He is an uninteresting hero who is easily used by everyone around him. In that way he is comparable to Nova. The script didn’t help flesh him out as a character (he’s the standard hero looking for the group that had landed on the planet before) but the acting doesn’t help. He’s a very forgettable character.
Nova – Is the victim and empty vessel again. She is kidnapped countless times, strangled and near raped by Brent when is being mind controlled by the mutants and in the end killed by the apes. Victimization is all her character is.
Plot holes – Zira and Cornelius were supposed to be charged with heresy as of the end of the last film. This is never brought up again and instead they are made to be leaders of the Academy when Dr. Zaius joins Ursus’s expedition. This is never explained.
This movie is a bit of an unfocused, at times sexist mess with some really intriguing ideas that it doesn’t give full credit for. It was an okay movie and would have been stronger if more time was spent with the apes. It really goes downhill once we’re with the Mutants since that is where the weakest critique and the most grotesque violence is. The Mutants have no complexity and no Chimpanzee faction which takes away from the critique too. Every group as members that are agnostic or against the philosophy expressed by the dominant group. I would still tentatively recommend this film. It didn’t need to made since “Planet of the Apes,” is a solid film on it’s own…but it has some interesting ideas and the time with the Apes are mostly fantastic. More time with the Apes could have made this a good film.
Next we’ll be doing the 3rd movie in the Original Series in this Planet of the Apes Franchise Retrospect – “Escape from the Planet of the Apes.”
My final score for this film is 6 / 10. Slightly above average.