Movie Review – Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Back in 1968, the film Planet of the Apes introduced people to a concept of a world where apes rule society and human beings are feral creatures.

Planet of the Apes followed along as astronaut George Taylor (Charlton Heston) was forced to deal with being on a strange and hostile planet.  He was ultimately successful in proving to the apes that human beings are smarter and more resourceful than the apes gave them credit.  Planet of the Apes had a shock ending where Taylor discovered that he was really on planet Earth the whole time.  At some point in the past humanity destroyed itself in warfare, and apes evolved to become the dominant species on the planet.

We know that there’s more to the story of what really happened on planet Earth.  We know that there must be more human artifacts out there.  And we know that there’s more to be discovered.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes was released two years later in 1970.

In Beneath the Planet of the Apes, a second spacecraft (one that was sent to search for Taylor’s spacecraft) travels through a time warp and crash lands on the same planet that’s now ruled by apes.  Astronaut Brent meets Nova, he is shocked to witness the ape’s society, and he ultimately discovers a hidden underground city inhabited with mutant human beings, descendants from the war that destroyed humanity.  It’s a race against time as an army of apes advances and aims to crush the underground city once and for all.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) - movie poster

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – movie poster

Directed by Ted Post, Beneath the Planet of the Apes stars James Franciscus as Brent, an astronaut who accidentally travels through time while he’s sent on a mission to rescue George Taylor.  Charlton Heston reprises his role of George Taylor, and so does Linda Harrison as Nova, Kim Hunter as Zira, and Maurice Evans as Dr. Zaius.  This time around David Watson plays the role of Cornelius.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – (c) 20th Century Fox

Beneath the Planet of the Apes begins at the ending of Planet of the ApesGeorge Taylor (Charlton Heston) and Nova (Linda Harrison) find the remains of the Statue of Liberty, and Taylor realizes that he’s been on Earth the whole time, just several thousand years into the future.  Humanity is virtually extinct and apes are in control of society.  Depressed, he and Nova ride on horseback further into the Forbidden Zone, hoping to find other signs of life.

A short while later, Taylor and Nova discover a wall of flames that appears and just as quickly disappears.  This is followed by a few quick bolts of lightning.  Taylor suspects that there’s more to the story of these phenomena, so he grabs a rifle and takes a closer look.  Just as it looks like Taylor discovers the secret behind the apparitions, he suddenly disappears into a rocky wall.  Nova is terrified by the sight, and she flees on Taylor’s horse.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – (c) 20th Century Fox

Meanwhile, a second spacecraft has crashed on the planet.  Astronaut Brent (James Franciscus) survives the crash landing, but his fellow astronaut is mortally wounded.  Brent heads out in search of help and soon runs into Nova.  When he spots Taylor’s identification around Nova’s neck, he’s excited to learn that he’s on the right track to finding out what happened to the previous spacecraft (the Liberty 1 from Planet of the Apes).  The only difficulty is that Nova doesn’t speak at all, and Brent has difficulty getting Nova to understand his intentions.  Nova finally understands, and she leads Brent through the Forbidden Zone.

Nova ends up leading Brent straight to Ape City, and just like Taylor, he’s shocked to discover that apes are the dominant species.  Not only can apes talk, but they also wear clothes, have weapons, and they live an organized society just as human beings did thousands of years earlier.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – (c) 20th Century Fox

In Ape City, gorilla General Ursus (James Gregory) leads a rally, urging his fellow apes to go out there and crush the humans, once and for all.  He knows that the Forbidden Zone is inhabited.  The general believes that they should conquer the Forbidden Zone and convert it into a food source for the apes.  However, Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) is against this idea, along with Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (David Watson).

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – (c) 20th Century Fox

Brent decides to flee and he takes Nova with him, but they’re spotted and chased by one of the gorilla guards.  Brent is ultimately shot in the arm by the gorilla.  Nova leads him into Ape City and to the home of Cornelius and Zira.  The two chimpanzees are thrilled to meet another intelligent human being.  They treat Brent’s wound and tell him about their time with Taylor.  Suddenly there’s a knock on the door, so Brent and Nova run and hide inside of the house.  It’s Dr. Zaius.  He’s there to inform Cornelius and Zira that he’s going to accompany General Ursus on his mission to invade the Forbidden Zone.

After Dr. Zaius leaves, Cornelius warns Brent that if he’s caught by the gorillas, that he’s never to speak.  He explains that only apes speak.  If the apes discover another human that can speak, then that human will be experimented on before its executed.  Zira then gives Brent a change of clothes, and Brent and Nova leave the house.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – (c) 20th Century Fox

Their escape from Ape City doesn’t go well, and Brent and Nova are quickly captured by the gorillas.  They’re taken to General Ursus, and the general determines that the two captured humans are to be used for target practice by the gorillas (a.k.a. horribly killed while the gorillas practice their fighting skills).  Zira is able to secretly unlock the cage before Brent and Nova are taken away to the training camp.  When their wagon goes through a quiet area, Brent sneaks out of the cage, attacks and fights with the gorilla guard, and ultimately gains control of the horses that are pulling the cage.  Brent and Nova then use the horses to make a clean getaway from Ape City.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – (c) 20th Century Fox

Brent and Nova make their way to a secluded cave where they hide from any pursuing gorillas.  There’s more to the cave as it initially appears.  Brent explores the cave and discovers that it’s really the remains of the Queensboro Plaza subway station in New York City.  This convinces Brent that he is really Earth, and that it’s a post-apocalyptic version set thousands of years into the future.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – (c) 20th Century Fox

Meanwhile, General Ursus readies his gorilla army and prepares to lead them into the Forbidden Zone.  Zira attempts to stop him by having the chimpanzees march and protest against his war.  Ursus isn’t phased by the demonstration and all of the protesting chimpanzees are quickly taken away by the gorillas.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – (c) 20th Century Fox

In the subway system, Brent and Nova continue to venture deeper underground.  At one point Brent hears voices inside of his head telling him to kill Nova, and he nearly drowns her in a fountain.  Brent stops and realizes that the voices inside of his head were controlling his actions.  He continues his journey and soon enters the remains of St. Patrick’s Cathedral.  Inside of the cathedral are telepathic humans who worship an ancient nuclear bomb.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – (c) 20th Century Fox

Brent is quickly captured by the telepathic humans.  He’s taken to a room where he’s interrogated about his origin and connection with Taylor (who is revealed to be a prisoner there in the cathedral).  He’s also question about Nova.  After Nova is released to Brent, he reveals that the apes are marching into the Forbidden Zone and planning on conquering it.  This alarms the telepaths as they have no defensive weapons aside from their mental powers.  If need be, they’ll detonate their “Divine Bomb” and destroy everything as a last resort.

As the apes press further into the Forbidden Zone, the telepaths create illusions of fires and other dangers as a means of scaring away the apes.  Dr. Zaius recognizes the visions as just illusions, and he bets his life to show the apes that there really is no danger.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – (c) 20th Century Fox

The telepaths realize that they’re now in grave danger as their telepathic powers have no affect on the apes.  They assemble inside of the cathedral and worship their nuclear weapon.  During the ceremony the telepaths remove their masks, revealing their true identity as mutated human beings, descendants from the nuclear war that destroyed most of humanity over a thousand years ago.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – (c) 20th Century Fox

After the ceremony, Brent is placed inside of a jail cage with Taylor.  The two of them are thrilled to see each other.  That joy is short lived as the mutant Ongaro (Don Pedro Colley) uses his telepathic powers against Brent and Taylor, forcing the two of them to fight to the death.  When Taylor gains the upper hand in the fight, the telepaths give Brent a heavy club to use as a weapon.  The fight continues until Nova escapes from her separate jail cell and distracts Ongaro by saying her first word, “Taylor!”  This breaks Ongaro’s concentration and Taylor and Brent are able to overpower and kill him.  After defeating Ongaro, Brent tells Taylor about the atomic weapon inside of the cathedral, and Taylor recognizes it as an extremely powerful doomsday weapon, something capable to causing a chain reaction that will destroy the entire planet.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – (c) 20th Century Fox

The gorillas discover the cave that leads to the underground city, and they begin their assault.  The telepaths are easily killed as the apes advance through the subterranean city.  At one point Nova is shot and killed by a gorilla.  The apes ultimately reach the cathedral just as Mendez (Paul Richards) is raising and preparing to detonate the nuclear bomb.  He’s shot and killed, and General Ursus wants the apes to remove the bomb and take it back to Ape City.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) - (c) 20th Century Fox

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – (c) 20th Century Fox

The gorillas lower the bomb, but it accidentally falls and toxic gas is released.  Taylor and Brent try to stop the gorillas from accidentally detonating the weapon, but Taylor is shot and mortally wounded.  Brent shoots back and kills General Ursus and several other gorillas before he’s shot and killed as well.  As Taylor is dying, he reaches out and pleads with Dr. Zaius for help, but Dr. Zaius refuses, stating that humans are only capable of destruction.  Taylor uses the last of his energy to reach up to the control panel and activate the nuclear bomb, causing it to detonate.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes ends with the destruction of Earth.  A voice-over then confirms that the planet is officially dead.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Is 1970’s Beneath the Planet of the Apes a good film and a worthy sequel to Planet of the Apes?

Yes and no.

While Planet of the Apes primarily focuses on the shock of a human being trying to survive in a world dominated by apes, Beneath the Planet of the Apes answers the question of what else lives on the post-apocalyptic version of Earth.  This story is primarily told through a new character, a friend of astronaut George Taylor who just happened to experience the same sort of time warp that propelled both spaceships to the far future.

The question is, how in the world did another spaceship find its way to that exact time?

In the beginning of Planet of the Apes, we know that Taylor’s spaceship is on its return voyage to Earth when they pass through a wormhole (a second time), and the ship crashes on a version of Earth over 2,000 years later than when they originally departed.  In order for a friend of Taylor to arrive at that same point in time, give or take a few days, the second spaceship would have to travel the same path twice through the wormhole —- once to arrive at whatever galaxy they were exploring, and a second trip back home to Earth.

Considering all of the variables out there and the dynamics with wormholes and all of that stuff, it’s pretty far-fetched that a second spaceship would be able to take the same exact flight path twice through a wormhole and to arrive at the same destination at the same point in time, especially when you’re talking about a journey that takes a couple thousand of “Earth years.”

The character of Brent would have been better explained if he was part of the original flight crew and just separated from everybody else.  For example, each astronaut could have been in a separate capsule / hibernation chamber, and they could have all been ejected and parachuted to safety when the spaceship performed its crash landing.  Brent could have simply been somebody lost or presumed dead in the first film, but he was really alive and not revealed until the second film.

But having a second spaceship that also travels through wormholes and arrives at the same time in the distant future?  I don’t think so.

Anyway, the character of Brent seems to lack the same punch as Taylor’s character in the first film.  He appears to be fairly bland, and he’s not nearly as shocked or surprised to see the evolved version of the apes.  He’s mainly focused on avoiding the apes and somehow finding Taylor.

That being said, don’t expect to see a whole lot of George Taylor in this film.  He’s featured in the beginning and again at the end, but that’s about it.  Zira, Cornelius and Dr. Zaius all have smaller roles in this movie as well.  This time around Nova is a main character although she only has a single line of dialogue.  We also have the militaristic General Ursus, and the mysterious telepaths living underground in the Forbidden Zone.

As a whole, Beneath the Planet of the Apes feels like a cheap film that was thrown together to capitalize on the success of Planet of the Apes.  While it does add more to the story of what life is like on the post-apocalyptic version of Earth, it really doesn’t add a whole lot of new content.  By the time that we meet the telepaths, the film is nearly finished.  It’s basically a quick introduction to them before the gorillas invade the underground city and the doomsday bomb is detonated.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes has some good ideas and concepts, but the film has problems with the characters along with the story as well.  Had things been better arranged or written differently, then the concepts presented here could have had a better final product.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – movie trailer

Beneath the Planet of the Apes isn’t a bad film, but it’s certainly not as good as the original Planet of the Apes either.  Just make sure that you watch the first film before seeing this one.

two-and-a-half stars

Cornelius – “They will dissect you! And they will kill you! In that order!”

———————–

ending voiceover – “In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe, lies a medium-sized star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead.”

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