Great Moments In Television History: Planet of the Apes The TV Series


On September 13th, 1974, audiences that tuned into CBS saw the premiere of a new TV show with a familiar premise.

The episode opened with a spaceship crashing on an Earth-like planet.  One of the astronauts was killed.  Two of the astronauts — Alan Virdon (Ron Harper) and Peter Burke (James Naughton) — survived.  Virdon and Burke discovered that the planet was inhabited by humans who, despite it being the year 3085, were living in medieval villages.  The humans were kept in a state of serfdom by the Apes who ruled the planet.  The Apes spoke English and had formed their own society of militaristic gorillas and scientific-minded chimpanzees.  Looking through an old book, Virdon and Burke discovered that they had crash landed on Earth, far in the future!

You know the drill.  Planet of the Apes was based on the famous series of films, with the first pilot episode featuring Virdon and Burke discovering in less than an hour what took Charlton Heston a journey into the forbidden zone to figure out.  Because the humans had “blown it up,” the Earth was now ruled by Apes!

As fugitives from ape justice, Virdon and Burke spent the next fourteen episodes being pursued by the fanatical General Urko (Mark Lenard), who was determined to capture the two astronauts before they revealed that Apes had not always been the planet’s masters.  Traveling with Virdon and Burke was a sympathetic chimpanzee named Galen (Roddy McDowall).  Usually just one step ahead of Urko, Virdon, Burke, and Galen traveled from village to village, seeking a way to fix their spaceship so that they could escape the Planet of the Apes.

Planet of the Apes got off to a strong start with an exciting and concise first episode but the series quickly ran out of gas.  Because Virdon, Burke, and Galen had to flee to a new village at the end of every episode, the show was never able to devote much time to exploring the most intriguing thing about the original Planet of the Apes films, the culture of a world where humans were subservient to apes.  Because Virdon and Burke were largely interchangeable with little in the way of backstory or personality, the show very quickly ran out of a stories to tell.  It didn’t take long for Planet of the Apes to start repeating itself with multiple episodes in which Virdon or Burke got involved in local village drama before Urko showed up and forced them to flee again.

There were some good moments, though.  Probably the highlight of the series was the third episode of the series, The Trap.  In this episode, Virdon, Burke, Galen, and Urko all reach the ruins of San Francisco at the same time.  After an earthquake buries Burke and Urko in a subway tunnel, the two of them are forced to work together to survive.  Burke and Urko make an unexpectedly good team and Urko seems like he’s on the verge of a change of heart when he spots an old poster for the San Francisco zoo, one that features a caged gorilla being gawked at by humans.  Urko’s angry reaction to seeing the poster is well-acted by Mark Lenard and, for a few minutes, his obsession with capturing Virdon and Burke can be understood.  It wouldn’t last but, in that moment, Urko went from being just another villain to being a complex character with his own clearly defined motivations.

The show also benefited from Roddy McDowall, who, by this point, was an expert at acting while wearing chimpanzee makeup.  McDowall brought heart and humor to the role of Galen, even if he was too often treated like a servant by Burke and Virdon.  Whenever the two humans were scared to go out in public, they sent Galen off to gather information.  Galen did a good job but he still deserved better.

Finally, Planet of the Apes had one of the coolest opening title sequences of all time!  Take a look:

Though cancelled after only 14 episodes, Planet of the Apes The Television Series lives on.  Episodes can currently be seen on MeTV.

10 Sci-Fi Films That Should Have Been Nominated For Best Picture


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Over the past few years, it’s gotten a little bit more common to see science fiction films nominated for best picture.  While a sci-fi film has yet to win best picture, it is no longer as much of a shock to see a science fiction film nominated.  At least not as much as it is to see a horror film nominated.

That said, it’s still an uphill fight.  Here are 10 science fiction films that I feel could and should have been nominated for best picture:

  1. Metropolis (1927)

Fritz Lang’s expressionistic silent epic remains one of the most influential films of all time.  Metropolis was eligible to be nominated during the first year of the Oscars, a year in which not one but two awards for best picture were handed out.  That Metropolis was nominated for neither Best Production nor Unique and Artistic Picture was a huge missed opportunity.

2. The War of the Worlds (1953)

This film may be over 60 years old but it’s still one of the best alien invasion films ever made.  And yes, I prefer the original to the Spielberg version.

3. The Time Machine (1960)

Morlocks, Eloi, and war … oh my!

4. Planet of the Apes (1968)

“A planet where apes evolved from man?”  No, not quite.  “YOU BLEW IT UP!  GODDAMN YOU TO HELL!”  Yes, that’s better.  Today, Planet of the Apes may seem more than a little bit campy but it’s still an unusually intelligent social satire.  Charlton Heston’s persona has never been better used.

5. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Can you believe that this classic from Stanley Kubrick was not nominated?  Kubrick got a directing nomination but, when it came to picking the best films of the year, the Academy nominated Oliver! and Rachel, Rachel.

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6. Blade Runner (1982)

Blade Runner is today recognized as a classic but it originally received mixed reviews and was ignored by the Academy.  At the very least, Rutger Hauer deserved a nomination.

7. Never Let Me Go (2010)

This underrated clone drama was sadly overlooked.  Andrew Garfield’s performance is heartbreaking.

Film Review Under the Skin

8. Under the Skin (2014)

This enigmatic film was probably too bizarre and unsettling for the Academy but Jonathan Glazer’s direction and Scarlett Johansson’s performance make Under the Skin a classic.

9. Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Whenever I rewatch Guardians of the Galaxy, I’m happy to discover that it still holds up as a wonderful piece of entertainment.  It remains my favorite film of 2014.

10. Ex Machina (2015)

Quite simply an amazing film, this is a Metropolis for the 21st Century.

 

Trash Film Guru Vs. The Summer Blockbusters : “Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes”


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This is gonna be one easy review to write because it all boils down to this : you really can believe all the hype, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is flat-out fucking awesome, and you need to go out and see this flick immediately.

My job is done, I’m finished, goodnight.

But I guess I do have at least a little bit more to say —

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I wasn’t a big fan of Cloverfield by any means, but I’m turning into a big fan of Matt Reeves. I know it’s heresy to some, but I thought that Let Me In was every bit as good as its Swedish progenitor, and with this latest — and, frankly, best — installment in the venerable Apes franchise,  Reeves has shown himself to be a director who is fully hitting his stride. The bigger and bolder the project, the more he seems to rise to the occasion. I frankly don’t even know how you go about eliciting good performances from actors who are only there for the purpose of having a bunch of hair overlaid onto their faces via computer, but he did it here. Andy Serkis, as ape leader Caesar, and Toby Kebbell, as his primary (and creepily duplicitous) rival, Koba, both turn in Oscar-caliber work on the basis of their facial expressions alone. They’re gonna wow you, folks, no lie.

As for the human actors playing — well, human parts, Jason Clarke is solid as stand-up guy Malcolm, apparent real-life asshole in the extreme Gary Oldman does typically competent (if, to be perfectly fair, unspectacular) work as survivalist head honcho Dreyfus, and Kodi Smit-McPhee is extremely convincing as Malcolm’s teenage son, Alexander (plus, he can be seen reading Charles Burns’ Black Hole, so bonus points for that). About the only weak link comes by way of nominal love interest Keri Russell, whose “concerned as shit” look at all times begins to grate pretty early on. But when you consider the fact that all these people spent pretty much the entire time in front of a blue (or maybe it was green) screen, getting only one subpar performance from the bunch is pretty good. And who knows? Maybe Russell simply can’t help coming off as worried 24/7.

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My only other minor quibble here is with the title — when a film called Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is followed by one called Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, you gotta wonder when the buildup is going to stop and we’re finally gonna get down to the shit. Or maybe we’re looking at a 20-part story here and we’ve still got plenty of stage-setting to go, in which case we’ll be treated to Prelude To The Planet Of The Apes and We’re Still Getting To The Planet Of The Apes next.

Hey, I did say it was a minor quibble, did I not?

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Apart from that, this has everything you’d want in a big-budget summer blockbuster, and quite a bit more than you’d honestly expect : there’s pathos, melodrama, palace (if your palace is a tree) intrigue, cheap scares, high-octane thrills, elaborately-staged battle sequences, and a genuine sense of urgency to the proceedings. Events — and tension — gradually build to the point of inevitability, and the film’s third act actually delivers in terms of its promised payoff.  And for those of you who are tired of James Franco’s ever-evolving shtick — whatever it is — rest assured that he doesn’t even pop up in a flashback sequence.

Ya know what? Let’s not even do Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes the disservice of comparing it to other summer popcorn flicks — this leaves typical blockbuster fare like The Avengers or Star Trek so far back in the dust it’s not even funny. What Reeves has made here is one of the very best films you’ll see all year, even if big-budget sci-fi grandiosity is not your thing. This is eloquent, spectacular, undeniably powerful drama of the highest order. It’s everything and the kitchen sink plus one of those nifty fancy programmable faucets all attached to a fancy-ass 300-pound granite countertop.

Okay, I’m finished with the italics, promise. If you don’t like this, you don’t like movies. My job here really is done.

‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ Prequel Shorts


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(Above is an exclusive poster found on Collider.com)

I am having a hard time remembering the last time I made a post like this that wasn’t a review, so I think you can use this article as a measure of just how excited I am for ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’. I, like a lot of people, was completely surprised by how good ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’ was. It rejuvenated a franchise (one I really enjoy) that was most recently tarnished by a really, really bad remake. It was so good that a sequel was not only inevitable, but desired.

Luckily Fox is fulfilling that desire next week with the release of the sequel, which has received universal praise from the few reviews that have already been released. The out-pour of this praise definitely has me more excited than I was beforehand…but it is not the true source of the hype that has me ready to buy a ticket for a Thursday night showing for the first time since ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. No, the source of that hype is a series of short films that act as a bridge between ‘Rise’ and ‘Dawn’, examining (quite artistically, surprisingly) the events that occurred after the outbreak of the Simian Flu at the end of ‘Rise’. These shorts are a collaboration of 20th Century Fox and Motherboard and can be viewed below:

‘Spread of Simian Flu: Before The Dawn of the Apes (Year 1)’ (dir. Isaiah Seret)

‘Struggling to Survive: Before The Dawn of the Apes (Year 5)’ (dir. Daniel Thron)

‘Story of the Gun: Before The Dawn of the Apes (Year 10)’ (dir. “thirtytwo”)

What I love most about these is how they are so unlike most “viral” shorts. These aren’t straight forward stories like you see with the Marvel One-Shots. These are actually artistic, emotional and thought provoking films, to the point in which I saw people commenting on them being pretentious…music to my ears to be honest with you. Each explore themes of their own while also wonderfully adding to the atmosphere and mythos of the new ‘Apes’ series. Furthermore, the very fact that the studio clearly gave the writers and directors of each liberty to not “play it safe” with a piece of marketing revolving around a multi-million dollar franchise just gives me a ton of confidence in the franchise on the whole. It is this, more than the reviews, that has me excited to see ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ next week, and maybe they will do the same for you.

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Along with the prequel shorts, which are directly related to the events of the film, they also released a documentary which can be seen below. It too is incredibly well made, and is a surprisingly poignant true story of apes and human interactions during and after the events of medical testing and human warfare.

‘The Real Planet of the Apes’ 

Trailer: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Official)


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One of my most-anticipated films this summer of 2014 has released it’s latest trailer and it shows the central conflict which will drive this sequel to 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

It’s been many years since the pandemic from the “simian flu” tore through the planet as shown during the end credits of the first film. Now the surviving humans must now contend with the growing population of hyper-intelligent apes led by Caesar from the first film.

While the first film showed the rise of Caesar as a revolutionary leader it looks like this sequel will now put him in the role of war leader as his apes must now gear up for a war with the surviving humans that can’t seem to be avoided.

Plus, all I can say is this: Apes on horses with assault rifles.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set for a July 11, 2014 release date.

Trailer: Dawn of the Planet of the Apes


Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

To say that 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes went a long way in washing out the taste out of fans mouth after having seen Tim Burton’s reboot of Planet of the Apes would be an understatement. Rupert Wyatt was able to bring the franchise back to prominence by actually treating the story as a sort of scifi allegory instead of a platform to once again exercise one’s filmmaking quirks.

It was a no-brainer that a sequel will follow up the success of the 2011 film. But with a fast-moving schedule there were several casualties. Rupert Wyatt didn’t think he had enough time to shoot the film the way he wanted to so he was replaced by Matt Reeves. James Franco is also gone from the project. Instead we get several veteran actors like Gary Oldman, Jason Clarke, Keri Russell and Kirk Acevedo joining Andy Serkis.

The film seems to take places a decade or so after the release of the deadly virus at the end of the first film. Humanity has survived both the virus and the wars which followed it, but civilization as we know it now are a thing of the past. With humanity trying to rebuild it must now deal with a rising nation of genetically-enhanced apes led by Andy Serkis’ Caesar. With Gary Oldman on one side seeming to be the leader of humanity’s survivors I don’t see peace as being a goal in this film.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set for a July 11, 2014 release.

Review: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (dir. by Rupert Wyatt)


In 2001, Tim Burton released his highly-anticipated remake of the classic 1968 film adaptation of Pierre Boulle’s sci-fi novel which would ultimately be called, Planet of the Apes. Fans of the series were excited to see what idiosyncrasies Burton would add to the series which had petered out decades before. What people were hoping for and what they ended up getting were polar opposites. The film in of itself wasn’t an awful film, but it wasn’t a good one and many saw it as average at best and bad at it’s worst. Any plans to sequelize this remake fell by the wayside. It took almost a decade until a decision was made to continue the series in a different direction.

British filmmaker and writer Rupert Wyatt would be given the task to rejuvenate for a second time the Planet of the Apes franchise. He would be working with a screenplay written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver which would take the 4th film in the series, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, and rework it for a much more current setting. The film was to be called Rise of the Apes and would star James Franco, John Lithgow and Frieda Pinto. As time went by the film would be renamed Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Despite having such an awkward sounding titles the film would end up to be one of the best films of the summer of 2011, if not one of the best of the year.

The film begins with a harrowing sequence in the jungles of Central Africa as poachers capture several chimpanzees to be sold as medical test subjects. Some of these chimps end up at a genetics research lab outside of San Francisco where one Will Rodman (James Franco) is working to find a cure to Alzheimer. He sees the encouraging result in one chimp he has named “Bright Eyes” (due to the side-effect to the test subject’s eyes taking on green flecks to their irises) and pushes for the next step and that’s human testing. The ensuing pitch to the company’s board of directors doesn’t go as planned as Bright Eyes goes on a violent rampage leading to her being put down and the project shelved. Her reaction they soon find out has less to do with the breakthrough treatment and more of a maternal instinct to protect her baby she secretly gave birth to. Will takes the baby chimp home in secret temporarily, but soon becomes attached to it as does his Alzheimer stricken father (John Lithgow) who names it Caesar.

The first third of the film sees Caesar showing an inherited hyper-intelligence from his genetically-treated mother. Caesar becomes an integral part of the Rodman household even to the point that Will has taught Caesar to call him father. It’s a family dynamic which would help mold Caesar into something more than just a wild animal. He begins to show signs of humanity which would become bedrock of his decision later in the film to turn become the revolutionary that the film has been leading up to the moment Caesar gets sent to a primate sanctuary after a violent encounter with a boorish neighbor to end the first reel of the film.

It’s during the second reel which sees Caesar realize that while he may as smart (maybe even smarter) than the humans he would never be a part of that world. In the sanctuary he learns that his very uniqueness has set him apart from the other primates. He sees the abuse inflicted on his fellow primates and longing to be back to his “home” with Will turns to a focus need to free himself and his people. He does this in the only fashion he knows would succeed. With the help from a couple canisters containing the aerosol-based treatment which increased his mother’s intelligence, Caesar frees everyone from the sanctuary and takes the fight to the humans as they make for the wilds of the Muir Redwood Forest north of San Francisco.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes might look to be an action-packed film from how the trailers and tv spots has been pushing the film, but it actually only has three major action sequences and they’re integral to each third of the film in helping advance the story. These were not action for the sake of having action on the screen. Writers Jaffa and Silver do a great job in figuring out that the real strength of the film would be Caesar’s journey from precocious ape child, rebellious teen and then his final unveiling as the leader of a people who have shaken off the shackles of medical research and their forced sacrifice for the greater good.

The film was never about the humans played by Franco, Pinto and Lithgow. It was always about Caesar and the film hinged on the audience believing Caesar as a character. In that regard, the work by WETA Digital should be commended as should Andy Serkis’ performance as Caesar. Serkis’ motion capture performance goes beyond just mimicking the movement of an ape. His own acting as Caesar comes through in even in the digital form of Caesar. In fact, the film never had a real ape used during filming. From Caesar right up to the scarred ape Koba every ape in the film was the work of WETA Digital’s furthering the motion capture work they had done in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and James Cameron’s Avatar. Never once during the two hour running time of the film did I ever not believe I was watching apes on the screen. Every emotion Caesar goes through during the film was able to show through facial expressions and body language.

It’s the strength of Serkis’ mo-cap work and the overall execution of Caesar’s character by WETA which also highlighted the one major weakness of the film through it’s underdeveloped human characters. Whether it was Franco’s benevolent Dr. Frankenstein-like Will Rodman right up to his greedy, amoral boss in the company (played by David Oyelowo), all the human’s in the film were very one-note and mostly served to propel Caesar’s story forward. At times, Franco actually seemed to be just as he was during his hosting gig during the Academy Awards earlier in the year. These were not bad performances by the actors involved. They were just there and part of it was due to how underwritten their characters were.

To help balance out this flaw in the film’s non-ape character would be the beautiful work by the film’s cinematographer in Andrew Lesnie. He has always been well-known for beautiful, majestic panoramic shot of the world as he had demonstrated in Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. He does the same for this film as we see some beautiful shots of the Muir Redwood forest, of San Francisco’s skyline and in the climactic battle on the Golden Gate Bridge. The city of San Francisco and it’s iconic red-hued bridge and the surrounding area has never been shot as gorgeous as Lesnie has done with his DP work on this film.

Even with some of the characters in the film being underwritten the film succeeds through Rupert Wyatt’s direction which keeps the film moving efficiently, but also bringing out the emotional content of the film’s script in an organic way. Film has always been about manipulating the audience’s  emotions. It’s when a director does so and make it seem normal is when such manipulation doesn’t come through for those watching to feel. Then add to this Serkis’ exceptional work as Caesar with some major digital artistry from the folks over at WETA Digital and Rise of the Planet of the Apes does rise above it’s B-movie foundation into something that should live beyond the summer and for years to come.

Rise of the Planet of the Apes does a great job and a long way towards wiping off the bad taste left behind by Tim Burton’s failed attempt to remake the franchise. We didn’t need something exotic and idiosyncratic to give the franchise a fresh breath of life. It seems all it needed was a very good story, some exceptional work from Andy Serkis and WETA Digital and a filmmaker knowing how to tell the story in a natural fashion and not fall into the temptation to go into shock and awe to tell it. Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a film that could stand-alone, but it does something that many trying to create film franchises never seem to do right: it makes people want to see what happens next in the lives of Caesar and his apes.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Battle for the Planet of the Apes (dir. by J. Lee Thompson)


And so, we reach the end of the original series of Planet of the Apes films.  Battle for the Planet of the Apes was the cheapest of the Apes films and most critics agree that it’s also the worst.  Sad to say, I happen to agree with them.  If nothing else, Battle For The Planet of the Apes is the only one of the original Apes films that fails to even reach the meager level of quality of Tim Burton’s remake.

The film begins a decade after the end of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.  A nuclear war has destroyed what was left of human society.  It’s never made clear if that war was between apes and human or between humans and humans.  All that is clear is that the Apes are now firmly in charge of the world.  Caesar (Roddy McDowall) leads the Apes civilization.  Humans, while clearly second class citizens, are treated relatively well by the Apes.  Early on in the film, Caesar views archival footage of his parents and learns of what the future holds.  He immediately makes move to try to prevent that future from occurring.

However, all is not well.  Gorilla general Aldo (Claude Akins) hates humans and is secretly plotting a military coup to overthrow Caesar.  Meanwhile, over in the Forbidden City (a.k.a. New York), there’s a tribe of radiation-scarred humans who are being led by Kolp (Severn Darden), the sadistic torturer from Conquest of The Planet of the Apes.  Driven mad by the ravages of war, Kolp and his followers are plotting to launch their own last-ditch attack on Caesar and the apes.

So much of this film can be legitimately criticized, from the cheap look (the apes are no longer characters but instead just actors in rubber masks) to the predictable storyline.  So, instead of focusing on what’s wrong with this film, I’m going to highlight the handful things that actually did work.  While few of the performers make any effort to invest their characters with any sort of life, both McDowall and Darden give strong performances.  Darden, in particular, makes a great villain and it’s a shame that he didn’t get a better film in which to show off.  Predictable as the film is, there’s a few memorable touches, my favorite being Kolp and his followers converting a bunch of school busses into armored attack vehicules.

As well, Battle for the Planet of the Apes may ultimately feel like an unnecessary chapter in the whole Planet of the Apes saga but the film, at the very least, makes the effort to provide some sort of continuity with the other films in the series.  Kolp and his followers are obviously meant to be the ancestors of the bomb-worshipping mutants from Beneath the Planet of the Apes and, in one of my favorite little touches, Kolp’s assistant is named Mendez.  If you’ll remember, the leader of the mutants in Beneath was named Mendez the Tenth. 

It’s those little touches that show that the filmmakers, at the very least, respected their viewers enough to maintain the continuity of the series.  As bad a film as Battle is (and it’s definitely not very good), it can still teach a valuable lesson to today’s filmmakers.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (dir. by J. Lee Thompson)


(WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW)

Released in 1972, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes was the fourth film in the original Planet of the Apes saga.  Taking place two decades after the end of Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest details how Caesar, the son of Cornelius and Zira, eventually rallies his fellow apes to overthrow humanity.   Caesar, in this film, is played by Roddy McDowall and Conquest features what is probably his best performance of the series.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is definitely the most radical film of the series and it’s probably one of the most radical films of the 1970s.  Once you peel away the sci-fi/fantasy wrapping, you’re left with one of the few “mainstream” studio films to ever promote the idea of overthrowing society with a violent revolution.  Even when viewed today, it’s odd to consider that this violent and rather dark film was actually given the same G rating that was otherwise exclusively given to children’s films.  Obviously, the poor critical reputation of the Planet of the Apes series kept the Hollywood censors from really paying attention to what they were watching.

Director J. Lee Thompson goes for a far different direction from the previous more television-orientated directors involved with the series.  Thompson emphasizes that savage, totalitarian aspect of future human civilization.  This is a film in which the most sympathetic human character (the circus owner played by Ricardo Montalban) is graphically tortured and murdered within the first few minutes of the film.  This is followed by Caesar being given electro-shocked treatment by the cheerful torturer Kolp (Severn Darden, who is a chilling villain) and finally, Caesar and his fellow apes violently overthrowing society while the futuristic city burns in the background. 

Director Thompson reportedly based the ape uprising on contemporary news reports about the Black Panthers and it brings a real sense of urgency to the film.  What sets this film apart is that director Thompson is clearly on the side of the Apes and by the end of the film, so is the audience.  McDowall’s passionate performance is neatly contrasted with an equally impassioned performance from Don Murray (who plays Breck, the racist leader of the humans) and the audience is firmly on McDowall’s side by the end of the film, cheering as their own civilization is destroyed.

Originally, Thompson wanted to end the film with McDowall giving a fiery speech announcing that the time of man was finished.  However, this finally proved to be too much for the film’s producers and, at the last minute, the scene was clumsily redubbed to allow Caesar to suddenly — out of nowhere — have a change of heart and call for a peaceful co-existence.  This revised ending — though it did leave things open for yet another sequel — is an undeniable weakness.  It just doesn’t feel right.

With that in mind, here’s Thompson’s original, unseen ending, in which Caesar watches as his apes followers murder Don Murray.  It gives you a feeling of the type of film that Thompson was going for:

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: Escape From The Planet of the Apes (dir. by Don Taylor)


(Warning: Potential Spoilers, especially if you’re good at reading between the lines of my attempts to be all mysterious-like)

Continuing with our look at the original Planet of the Apes films, we come to 1971’s Escape from The Planet of the Apes.

Escape From The Planet of the Apes starts out with a huge problem — how do you make a sequel to a film that literally ended with the entire planet being destroyed?  Escape handles this problem by reversing the plotline of the original film.  Instead of a group of humans going into the future and landing on a planet dominated by apes, this film features three apes going into the past and landing on a planet dominated by the past.  It’s a premise that the film handles with a surprising amount of cleverness and the end result is probably the best of the various Planet of the Apes sequel.  Certainly, it is the only one that can stand alone as a film separate from the rest of the series.

Using Taylor’s old space capsule, Zira (Kim Hunter), Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), and Milo (Sal Mineo, who you know is doomed because he’s the only one of the three who hasn’t appeared in either of the two previous films) escape Earth shortly before Charlton Heston blows the planet up at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes.  Slipping through the same vortex as Heston did in the first film, they end up crash landing on Earth in the year 1974. 

At first, Cornelius and the outspoken Zira become media celebrities.  They do interviews with the press, appear on the covers of magazines, and are generally celebrated like simian Kardashians.  However, one scientist — played by a very handsome Eric Braeden (seriously, he has gorgeous hair in this film) — isn’t as charmed by Zira and Cornelius.  Instead, he views them as threats to the future of the human race, especially after he discovers that Zira is pregnant.

The character that Braeden plays, by the way, is named Dr. Otto Hasslien and attentive viewers will recognize the name from a throw-away reference made by Taylor (Charlton Heston) in the original Planet of the Apes.  One of the more interesting subtexts in this film is that, much as chimpanzees Zira and Cornelius are this film’s equivalent to the human Taylor, Braeden’s Hasslien is this film’s version of Dr. Zaius.  Much as Maurice Evans did for Dr. Zaius, Braeden brings a certain ambiguity to his villianous character.  Though Braeden’s actions are ultimately hateful, it’s also made clear that they’re more motivated by fear than by evil.  Indeed, when Braeden first appears in this film, he’s almost likable.  It’s only at the film’s conclusion that we become fully aware of the irony that the human, “civilized” Dr. Hasslien ultimately shows less mercy and empathy to Zira and Cornelius than the ape Dr. Zaius showed to Taylor.  The moral ambiguity of Braeden’s performance makes this a far more resonant film than most mainstream critics are willing to admit.

 As for, Zira and Cornelius, the once-fawing public eventually turns against them as it becomes apparent that for the two of them to exist, humanity has to be wiped out.  Zira and Cornelius find themselves hunted fugitives, fleeing for their lives while the whole planet — with the exception of a zoo keeper played by Ricardo Montalban and another scientist (played by Bradford Dillman — what a great name for an actor) — seems to be determined to destroy them.

Escape From The Planet of the Apes starts out as a likable, rather breezy social satire (much like Pierre Boulle’s Monkey Planet, the novel that Planet of the Apes was loosely adapted from) and that makes it even more surprising when, about halfway through, the movie shifts gears and becomes a rather dark and bleak action film.  It all ends, like many films from the early 70s, in a brutal act of violence that carries a surprising punch to it.  It’s after the end of the film that we truly become aware just how involved we had become with Zira and Cornelius.  A lot of that has to do with the strong performances of McDowall and Hunter who both created characters that came across as real and worthy, regardless of how many layers of makeup they were acting under.  Their chemistry as a couple makes this underrated film one of the surprising gems of the early 70s.