Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971): The Hope of Ape and Humankind

Escape from the Planet of the Apes

We continue our Planet of the Apes Franchise Retrospect with “Escape from the Planet of the Apes.” “Escape from the Planet of the Apes,” is a lot of fun and actually a really good film. For once we have more than one interesting human character and we have Zira and Cornelius as the primary protagonists! Paul Dehn did a great job writing this film and Don Taylor did great work as his only directing debut in the Original Planet of the Apes Series.

The premise is that Cornelius, Zira and Dr. Milo rebuild Brent’s spaceship and use to travel into the past as Earth is destroyed by Taylor at the end of the last film. They travel back in time to the 1970s. It is here that the humans are confused about what to do with the Apes but eventually they become celebrities before the truth of their world and actions come to light. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Music – The music is comedic and fantastical initially but later takes on the themes of the past music of Original Planet of the Apes series.

The Premise – It turns the other movie on it’s head and reveals the point of the first movie. We are the apes (though better to the talking chimps initially than they ever were with the exception of Zira and Cornelius…this is mirrored in Stephanie and Lewis…the two kind scientists of this film). The film is also fun which is easy since Zira and Cornelius were already the funnest characters in the franchise thus far and them being in an alien environment was great for jokes and for making a point about us.

Pros: Dr. Milo – He is the third chimp to travel back in time and the one to figure out how to repair and pilot the ship. He is only around for the first third of the film before an angry gorilla kills him but he leaves a mark, having been the unofficial leader of the group.

Zira – This is where we see Zira’s pros and cons more clearly. Her pros are her passion, strength, compassion and intellect. Her cons are her disconnect towards idiot man in the past (the future of where they are currently) and how easily she is manipulated by kindness. She speaks for the rights of women in this at one point, which is very well done. By far my favorite character in the series thus far though.

Cornelius – Cornelius is fantastic in this film. He is a kind and loving partner and is good at reading situations. His biggest con is inability to take insults and have patience. Those things are what lead to the excuse those who want to hunt them need to execute them and their unborn baby.

Stephanie and Lewis – Are great as Cornelius and Zira’s human counterparts in our world. It is their compassion and action that allows for Zira and Cornelius’s legacy to live on…you’ll see what I mean later. They are the only ones who truly look out for them except for their friend Armando.

The President – Well intentioned but ambitious. He is sympathetic to the apes but comes around against them after Zira’s words are used against her and he abuses the trust as well as never fully recognizing them as people. Still a complex character though, his scenes are a lot of fun. William Windom did great.

Dr. Otto – Is the Dr. Zaius of the film. He speaks of preventing the rise of Hitler and destruction of mankind by killing the apes and their child. He is eventually able to convince the President to this course of action as well. He is a great antagonist and it is rewarding when Cornelius kills him (though he manages to kill Zira and the fake Milo in the process). Eric Braedon does a good job.

Armondo – Is a circus leader played by Ricardo Montalbán. This actor has always impressed me (especially in the Original Star Trek Franchise and “The Wrath of Khan”) He played a fantastic Khan and he plays a great hero in this film. In this film he switches babies in order for Milo (later to be Caesar) may live.

Time Travel – Time Travel is a pro in this for a reason. Infinite regression is explained as to why the Chimps know the future (the data on the spaceship) and how the only one who can see the full picture is the one who has come before and is looking back at what has already happened. Otto is a counterpoint to that with his action to prevent the future and end of the Earth. I wonder if everything will come full circle or if like the “Terminator” franchise there will be the option to change the future. We shall see as I keep watching during this retrospect.

The Narrative – Is tight and focused. Zira and Cornelius were two of the best parts of the last two movies and seeing them grow and change their views of themselves (Zira thinking she shouldn’t have done testing on humans after the tests done on them, Cornelius with learning to trust very few (Zira learns this too).

Ethics – Ethics are explored in this film with a hypothetical. Is animal testing wrong if said animals develop the ability to communicate like us and ask the questions we ask? What if we become like the animals in having a much more limited intelligence in regards to asking those questions and civilization. It asks an interesting quandary and does it in a respectful manner in which we learn more about the characters and in doing so our world. The perfect showing and not telling.

The Ending – Zira and Cornelius sacrifice themselves to save their child and from that point we see why Milo their child becomes Caesar. His parents were killed by Xenophobic humanity and failed to see the development apes were going through. This is the seed of the Ape Revolution.

Cons: Prejudice towards the other Apes – We see a distrust and looking down on Gorillas especially but also Orangutans by Zira and Cornelius. We never see any good versions of Gorillas or Orangutans but the whole “Chimpanzees are pacifists,” seems like a cop-out. It is claiming superiority rather than judging the whole. I wish they’d been confronted by this since even though they were bad Zaius and Ursus were at least complex characters.

There really aren’t many cons to this film and it achieves the purpose of the first film. It shows us ourselves through the eyes of apes. Though in the first movie…we were the apes, in this one it is the apes showing our better nature and we overall representing our worst. This movie make me look forward to the final too and is definitely a favorite. Cornelius and Zira can carry a film the way Brent and Nova and Taylor and Nova never could…partially because Zira and Cornelius are flawed but represent our potential and truths of who and what we are. Their deaths meant something and the characters who supported them were more than ideas and archetypes…they were complex characters actually arguing well for an alternative view or fear…Which in turn made the point of the film and the lives of Zira and Cornelius all that much stronger.

I highly recommend this film.

9.5 / 10


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