7/25/14

ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES - REVIEW


So, ok, you know how the end of Beneath The Planet Of The Apes was pretty, without spoiling anything, final?

I mean, an ending like that definitely doesn't lend itself to any follow-ups so the fact that this sequel, Escape From The Planet Of The Apes, exists is something of a miracle. Or maybe just a desperate attempt at breathing life into a franchise that pretty much said its last word already.

Alright, so expect some spoilers.

Get this: as it turns out, the planet did explode like we saw in Beneath BUT Cornelius, Zira and some other ape doctor happened to be in Charlton Heston's spaceship and the bomb happened to trigger some kind of temporal "whoosh" thereby propelling the spaceship back in time over a thousand years with its crew completely unharmed. So already you've got a plot which sounds about as ludicrous as that fourth Star Trek movie plus Jerry Goldsmith's score sounds like something out of a goofy Roger Moore 007 outing and the tone in the first 20 minutes is pretty farcical. In a weird way, to keep going with the James Bond comparisons, this is the On Her Majesty's Secret Service of the Planet Of The Apes franchise: it's awkward, weirdly put together and it's unclear why it's there but it has just about enough charm and tragedy to make it not that bad of a flick as a whole. Well, mostly bad but still likeable in parts, to be more precise.

Quick note to filmmakers, by the way: when a character dies, don't cut to tigers and hippos.

That's confusing as s***.

Having two talking apes in this movie as opposed to an entire planet always felt like a bit of a cheap move, similarly to how Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was mostly just shot in San Francisco without much space action at all. Still, with Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter back as Cornelius and Zira, you still get two characters you know and love from the original film played by the right actors so there's that. The apes come to Earth to find that the US government is freaking out a bit at the prospect of eventually being ruled by talking apes, even if it is ages in the future. Only a scientist guy, his assistant and Ricardo Montalban's circus owner (don't ask) seem to be ok with it all and help the ape duo on their escape. Don't expect any massive twist at the end of this one, just expect a nifty little one that's sadly kind of ruined by some dodgy editing. After a frankly silly first half hour, the film still delivers the odd random moment (see a make-over montage and Zira at a feminists' meeting) but it seems to make a conscious decision to take itself and its main characters a bit more seriously soon enough by having the ape couple get into real trouble and, with a kid on the way, struggle to flee from that creepy English dude who hates them for some reason.

One thing I learned from this movie is that apes are really bad at hiding and that finding them is as easy as just pulling out a pair of binoculars and looking around for a second. That ending, I should mention, still has some impact because we really don't want to see anything bad happen to Cornelius and Zira and that's the film's main strength, as is showing the cruelty and stubbornness of Man but, otherwise, Escape is a bit of an unnecessary sequel: bringing back some characters who didn't need to come back only to dispose of them again, stretching suspension of disbelief to levels which make Beneath look like it could totally happen for real and only being useful as part of the franchise in that it mentions how the ape domination got started.

While easily the weakest film in the original Apes trilogy, Escape From The Planet Of The Apes still has a couple of things going for it but, ultimately, it's one that's really hard to buy and which doesn't quite get its point, whatever it was, across. Perhaps more emphasis on the tragic aspect of Cornelius and Zira's journey and a more believable or well defined plot could have helped make this one more worthwhile.

Watchable but not essential.

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