Take a Drink: whenever you wonder where Charlton Heston is
Take a Drink: for speechifyin’
Take a Drink: for anti-militaristic sentiment
Take a Drink: for ape racism
Take a Drink: for… unmasking
Do a Shot: when the film goes… beneath
Do a Shot: Boom!
By: Henry J. Fromage (Four Beers) –
A scant two years after Planet of the Apes, the series returned with Beneath the Planet of the Apes, but that’s practically glacial compared to the next three sequels, one a year until 1973. So why does this one feel like arguably the cheapest cash-in (vs. Battle of the Planet of the Apes, of course)?
In Beneath, a rescue mission sent after Heston’s once again crashes on the Planet of the Apes, once again pitting a blonde, blue-eyed astronaut (James Franciscus) against its ape overlords, but this time he also has to track down the missing Heston. His search takes him to some… weird places.
Well… Linda Harrison is as hot a mute plot catalyst as ever.
Okay, to be fair, Beneath does have some good things going for it. Kim Hunter and to a lesser extent Maurice Evans reprise their roles well, growing more comfortable in their performances, and James Gregory is an admittedly hammy yet welcome presence as the warlike gorilla General Ursus.
What really salvages the film, though, is how bugfuck crazy things get when the film goes… beneath. It turns out some humans have survived as… a psychic nuclear bomb-worshipping doomsday cult? Awesome. The melted New York set design is a really cool change of pace, and as silly as things get, you can’t call them boring, right up to a ridiculous finale that is literally as bleak as it can be.
Franciscus is no Charlton Heston, despite the physical resemblance, and even though he’s not terrible exactly, it’s unavoidably disappointing to be stuck with him when the beginning of the film leads us to believe this is a direct continuation of Heston’s story.
Who needs Heston when the world is full of bristle-bearded white boys?
Since the film deals with a whole new person thrust into this alien world, of course they’re going to have to make some of the same adjustments. However, Beneath bizarrely covers too much (Apes to Franciscus: “You can talk?!”) and not enough (he sure handles all this well) of the same territory.
This film is both cheaper and cheesier than the original in many respects. It doubles down on the anti-war bent of the first, but in the hammiest way possible. There are even ape student demonstrations.
No ape hippies, though, which feels like a missed opportunity.
Also, the special effects budget took a nosedive. One effects-heavy scene near the beginning packs in more cheese than a Wisconsin State Fair Beauty Queen.
Beneath the Planet of the Apes feels like an undercooked attempt at capitalizing on the perhaps unexpected success of the original, but does get its act together for a wonderfully weird, impressively dark final act.