Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

ESCAPE is the third movie of the original five-movie Planet of the Apes saga. If I’ve ever watched it, I have no conscious memory of it, so, for all intents and purposes, this is my first time viewing it.

BTW, for those keeping score at home, you’ll likely note there is no review for Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970). I wrote one for the original 1968 film. It is better this way. I just flat-out didn’t like it and was glad they went ahead with ESCAPE.

ESCAPE opens with a great shot: three astronauts emerging from the same spacecraft Charleton Heston used in the original POTA movie, except this time, when the trio remove their helmets, they are revealed to be apes! From the future! The producers, probably realizing their mistake with BENEATH, brought back the two best apes from the first film, Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowell) and threw in a third one who dies pretty quickly and I’ve already forgotten his name. Thus, two simultaneous things are at play now: the apes can comment on modern culture circa 1971 and the producers can save a ton of money by needing only to have two actors in make up.

Zira and Cornelius are befriended by a kind scientist, Dr. Lewis Dixon, who takes them on a whirlwind tour of Los Angeles (another way to save money by shooting locally) and letting them experience everything we humans take for granted. In the meantime, the President has started a special commission to determine what to do with the pair of simians and what nefarious means they might or might not have used to overpower Heston’s character in the future.

Naturally, there are misunderstandings and imprisonments, escapes and chases. A few things struck me, however. There is a lot of talking in this film (and the previous two). Characters discuss who should live or die and what it means to be the dominant caretaker special of the planet. The humans, of course, are horrified that the future apes experimented on humans, forgetting that we humans now experiment on nearly all animals considered lower than us on the food chain. It was also nice to see the President being a voice of reason. Too often in films, this is not the case. Lastly, I find it strange that the humans of 1971 care so much about events 2,000 years in the future. We must kill these two apes now to prevent Future Apes from becoming the dominant species. Really? But it’s a decent plot point.

The ending was a surprise when I watched the film but not so much given some more time for thought. There was little where to go with the current story line so it needed to end the way it did. Not nearly as iconic as the original POTA film, but right in line with nearly every other monster movie ever made.

A little nuance struck me while watching the film. If you take the titles literally, then ESCAPE is the three Future Apes escaping back into the past in order to live. However, as the story progresses, you can also interpret the title to mean that we humans in 1971 are the “beasts” and that the Future Apes must escape from 1971. But they have nowhere to go.

Enjoyable film and I’m looking forward to the next one, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.

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