Where do you go after one of the greatest endings of all time?
“They blew up! Damn them all to hell!”
Well according to this first Apes sequel, you bury your head in the sand like an ostrich and give up.
“Beneath the Planet of the Apes” begins where the previous film left off. Taylor (Charlton Heston) riding off into the sunset with his mute beauty Nova (Linda Harrison). The sequel skips the Statue of Liberty scene and has Taylor riding into the desert. In the Forbidden Zone, he encounters a wall of fire and disappears into it when he tries to breach it. Nova is left shocked, alone and wandering the desert.
Meanwhile, another spaceship crashes and a new lone survivor emerges Brent (James Franciscus) and he encounters Nova. Together they get captured by apes, meet Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (not played by Roddy MacDowell) and search for Taylor.
When the sequel was conceived, it was supposed to have Taylor, Nova and Brent create a colony and rebel against the apes. Instead they ended up with a script so horrendous that the movie almost never got made. James Franciscus was brought on board because he resembled Heston and he was cheap. The movie’s budget was slashed from $5 million to $2.5 million and if you look really close 90% of the extras don’t even have proper ape makeup but instead just ape rubber masks.
Franciscus was appalled at how bad the script was so he worked day and night with director Ted Post to try and bring more of a character to Brent. In some ways, Brent is even a more tragic character than Taylor. He’s on a rescue mission that can never turn out good. He meets this hot native girl but she only wants another guy. And well he’s also being hunted by apes.
During the time it was being conceived, Fox was going down the tubes. Heir apparent Richard Zanuck was waiting to take the reigns of Fox Studios from his aging father Darryl Zanuck. But after a string of flops including Star! and Hello Dolly and the studio $77 million in the red, Darryl fired his son. Dick Zanuck went nuts when he left saying to Apes producer Arthur P. Jacobs, “Blow the whole planet up!” Charlton Heston also agreed with Zanuck and only agreed to come aboard so his character could be killed off.
So the ending can be seen in many different lights, 1) Zanuck telling his father to go fuck himself by destroying the only thing that was making Fox money thus destroying the studio, 2) granting Heston’s wish, 3) warning man about the effects of nuclear war.
The whole film is a mean-spirited, suicide mission. It takes away from the intrigue and fascination of the original film and slaps us in the face.
Yes, we explore the ape world a little more but really did the ape sauna scene really bring anything to our fascination with this world?
Not to mention what a waste of character General Ursus is. No wonder Orson Welles didn’t want to play this makeshift pawn for plot.
The human’s bowing down to a nuclear weapon and turning out to be mutants made me groan, the first time and every time after that I have seen this movie. I just felt with that whole society the writer and filmmakers were trying way too hard. Serling’s original Ape ending was great because it was simple. I compare the unmasking in this movie to the brain scene in “Hannibal”. Both scenes are there just to try and shock us more than the previous film did. It’s only there for shock value and nothing more.
Franciscus acts his heart out in this film and he is really the only reason to see the film. Linda Harrison’s Nova is always a delight and her prison scene is worth noting but would have loved to experience that kind of moment in a worthier sequel. It is a shame that this is the only direct sequel to the original film and that we ended up with this movie that feels more like a footnote than something worth remembering.
2 out of 5
So Says the Soothsayer