As a result of a natural disaster, three people are frozen. By the time that they thaw it, several hundreds of years have passed and Earth is now a very different place. Humans are now second-class citizens and the planet is ruled by apes, who speak English, live in their own cities, and have their own militaristic society. The humans go on the run, to avoid being possibly destroyed by the ape leaders who either cannot accept or are trying to cover up the fact that Earth was once dominated by humans. In fact, it’s almost as if the humans have found themselves on a planet of the…
You get the idea.
Time of the Apes may sound like a blatant Planet of the Apes rip-off but there are a few differences. First off, instead of Charlton Heston, humanity is represented by Catherine and two children who, for reasons that are not exactly clear, thought it would be a good idea to ride out an earthquake in a cryogenic chamber. (You science teacher right. That’s exactly how you accidentally freeze yourself for several centuries.) Secondly, the apes in Time of the Apes don’t ride horses or wear their leather outfits. Instead, they were suits and police uniforms and they drive Buicks and station wagons. Time of the Apes may take place far in the future but the ape way of life is still trapped in 1974. Catherine and the two brats eventually meet another human named Godo (Tetsuya Ushio). Unlike the nearly-naked future humans in Planet of the Apes, Godo wears a turtleneck.
To understand Time of the Apes, you have to understand that it was originally a 26-episode Japanese television series that aired in 1974, at the height of Planet of the Apes mania. 13 years later, America producer Sandy Frank got the rights to the series and decided to edit it down from 26 hours to 93 minutes so that he could release it as a movie. As a result, Time of the Apes is a disjointed movie in which the action seems to frequently repeat itself but it’s never boring. Between the apes and the sudden appearance of a flying saucer, there’s always something to watch. It’s never really good either, though. The ape makeup is terrible. The dubbing is worse. If you can watch the movie for five minutes without laughing at the ineptitude of it all, you’re a stronger movie watcher than me.
Time of the Apes is pretty much impossible to see unless you’re watching the Mystery Science Theater version. The MST 3K gang liked the film so much that they actually did it twice, once during the show’s later disowned first season (when it was basically just a cable access program in Minnesota) and once more after the show started to air nationally. It’s rightfully considered to be one of MST 3K’s best episodes and it’s probably the best possible way to watch Time of the Apes. You need Joel and the Bots there to assure you that you did actually just see and hear what you think you saw and heard. Sandy Frank was apparently not amused by the show’s lampooning of Time of the Apes but he really should lighten up. MST 3K brought Time of the Apes to an entirely new and appreciative audience.