Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 24, 2006)
After the critical and financial success of 1968ís Planet of the Apes, a sequel became inevitable. That flick made it to the big screen in 1970 via Beneath the Planet of the Apes. The movieís prologue launches right at the end of the first story. We see Taylor (Charlton Heston) and Nova (Linda Harrison) as they go out to explore whatís left of the Earth.
We immediately cut to a crashed spacecraft, though. Only astronaut Brent (James Franciscus) survives, and he soon comes across Nova. She doesnít talk, so she canít explain what happened to Taylor, though Brent understands a link exists since she wears her manís dogtags. We see some of Novaís experiences via flashback. Brent insists that she take him to someone who can speak, and they end up back in ape civilization.
Just like Taylor, Brent comes fresh from 20th century society, so this setting surprises him. We meet General Ursus (James Gregory), a warmonger who wants to further explore what he perceives as dangers in the Forbidden Zone. He also promotes the hatred and fear of humans. This upsets Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (David Watson), Taylorís pals from the first flick.
Brent hides from the other simians but catches up with Zira and Cornelius. They update him before he and Nova head off to the Forbidden Zone and a quest to locate Taylor. When they arrive, they find many exotic secrets and matters lead toward a conflict between human and ape.
A lackluster sequel, I find it hard to think of many positives to attach to Beneath. Actually, the flickís biggest strength Ė for me, at least Ė comes from Harrisonís continued presence. She was an amazing babe, and she stills scorches here.
I like the minor expansion of our understanding of ape society as well. The film focuses more on elements of the Forbidden Zone, but we see a little more with the apes. Those parts become entertaining and intriguing, though they appear infrequently. Cornelius and Zira play surprisingly minor roles, and since Heston didnít want to do a sequel, he barely pops up as well.
Which leads us toward a few of the movieís main weaknesses. One comes from Hestonís essential absence. Brent is really the same role as Taylor; they just changed the name and circumstances to explain why we see so little of Heston. We could easily replace Brent with Taylor and the movie would not change much.
In fact, itíd make more sense, since Brent accepts ape society awfully easily. In the original, Taylor found it tough to come to terms with intelligent, talking simians, but Brent seems to swalloe this with little more than a shrug. Granted, this helps ensure that Beneath isnít just a remake of Apes, but it doesnít seem too logical.
The filmís biggest revelations come when Brent finds out the secrets of the Forbidden Zone and what lies beneath the planet. I wonít specify these because I like to avoid spoilers, but letís just say that the discoveries are massive disappointments. The movie keeps us mildly interested as we see the build-up to those events, but once we find out whatís down there, the flick becomes idiotic and silly.
Frankly, the movieís story seems like little more than a series of political and social statements linked by some goofiness. Of course, the original offered similar commentary, but it did so much more effectively. This one turns heavy-handed and absurd before it concludes with an exceptionally dark ending. That finale should offer something impressive, but given the inanity that precedes it, the finish lacks bite.
And that goes for the rest of Beneath the Planet of the Apes as well. The film makes little sense and fails to intrigue or entertain when it does. It goes far out of its way to make its social points and lacks coherence or logic. I like the original Apes but find Beneath to be a disappointing successor.