Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Naptown Nerd Goes Ape: Beneath The Planet Of The Apes (1970)

Beneath The Planet Of The Apes
Director: Ted Post (who has experience with 2nd films in a franchise as he also did Magnum Force)
Starring: James Franciscus, Kim Hunter, Maurice Evans, Linda Harrison, Charlton Heston and Batman's King Tut-Victor Buono
Rated: G...yes...G

Glory be to the bomb and the holy fallout.  As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be.  World without end. Amen.

I never saw any of the Planet Of The Apes sequels until the sometime in the early 90s the glorious Sci-Fi Channel decided to air them one week.  There was one movie every night and they were hosted by star Roddy McDowall, who would share stories and trivia from the movies before and after the commercial breaks.  I taped them all.  I don't think my closeby video stores or the ones I rented at had any of the films beyond the first one.  Or they didn't have all of them and I was a stickler for watching things in the correct order so I couldn't move on if they didn't carry Beneath.  I dunno.
Beneath is a film that always easily waivered for me toward the bottom of the series all the way up until a few years ago.  I felt that most of the film was just a less interested retread of the original that bored me all the way up until its fantatstic and absolutely shocking finish.  As a kid, there were politcal implications I wasn't picking up on and the film really lost me me in its first half because I had felt I had seen the film already.  I never really went back to the film or had much interest to do so in my teen and college years if I went back to them.
It wasn't until about 3 years ago maybe that I actually went back and rewatched this one.  Of course I watched it again for this.  I like the film better each time I see it, but its still a tale of two halves for me.  The first half is just too much retread and Franciscus (a poor man's James Coburn?) doesn't really gel with me much at all.  He's not terrible, but he's not a very strong lead.  And its all a waiting game until we're reunited with the first film's hero Taylor, whom we glimpse at the beginning for moment.  Franciscus's Brent is the clear lead of the film all the way up until its final minutes when Heston appears.  Then he's massively relegated to a second fiddle and is killed off just so matter of factly.  It sucks Heston really would only do minimal stuff for this movie as a lot of it feels almost like a waiting game until he shows, making a lot of it feel unimportant.
I really do like when they actually go Beneath as promised.  Its a wild little church of the bomb that gets weird and wacky and this is the part of the film I find myself growing more attached to and making it overall stronger for me when the film gets here.  The mutants are quite freaky and cool too.  It adds another little level of disturbance to what Earth has become in the wake of Ape times.  It all leads to this glorious battle and bloodbath that once again makes me think..."THIS IS RATED G?".  Brent gets shot right through the forehead with a bullet, blood splatter and all.  Its incredible.  And then Taylor ignites the nuke and destroys Earth to end it all.  I mean, just watch the last 10 minutes and marvel in this "all audiences" affair.  Its just crazy to think how this made it through. 
Another aspect I love about the film is its sets.  This was a time when sequels didn't get bigger budgets, they got their budgets cut.  They were usually films with diminishing returns as they continued in numbers.  All the film's money is held off until the 2nd half.  Note that you never really see the Ape village or a lot of exteriors in the first half.  The underground subway station post-apocalypse is absolute glorious and makes for some glorious photography in the film.  The sets in this film are another addition to the awesome makeup and effects work the series set the stage with in the original.
Here's another important thing of note.  This is the only film in the original canon without Roddy McDowall in it.  David Watson replaced him as he was comitted to another film at the time.  What I really enjoy and appreciate about Watson is that he does his best sound and behave just like McDowall doing the role.  The untrained eye might not even notice there's been a replacement.  I know most are a bummer about this, but really I think Watson should be given more credit for keeping things feeling in continuity and appreciating the role and series as much to sacrifice giving his own performance and instead continuing the original for sake of the material.
In my older age, I keep warming further to this film.  But, I'm still not big on the first half.  Though, with each viewing now, it seems to feel shorter.  The second half of this movie is dynamite though.  You almost just need to watch the opening, Taylor's flashbacks which include Brent's intro.  Then skip to Brent and Nova entering the train station.  You save time, don't really miss much, and get right to the good meat and purpose of the film.  You'll miss a good carriage chase action scene, so I guess if when you are skipping through and you catch a glimpse of that you should stop and watch.  Its a film that has a very bold and powerful final act and makes one wonder (with meta knowledge) how in the hell do the go on with 3 more of these after this?

Next Time: Time travel...OF COURSE!

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