Escape From The Planet Of The Apes

1971, Movie, G, 97 mins

Review

ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES
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Undaunted by the nuclear annihilation of the ape planet in BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970), the first sequel to PLANET OF THE APES (1968), Fox concocted episode number three, ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES, which turned out to be a surprisingly enjoyable romp that's much more entertaining than BENEATH, though not nearly on a par with the original.

Fleeing the nuclear destruction of Earth in the year 3978, chimp scientists Zira (Kim Hunter), her husband Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), and their friend Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo) launch a spacecraft and journey through a bend in time back to the year 1973. They land off the Southern California coast and are taken to the Los Angeles Zoo for observation, where they're befriended by Drs. Dixon (Bradford Dillman) and Branton (Natalie Trundy). Realizing that they'll be in danger if the authorities learn that Earth will one day be ruled by apes, Milo advises the others not to say anything, but after he's strangled to death by a gorilla, Zira and Cornelius talk to Dixon and Branton. The two chimps then become national celebrities after stunning the country by appearing on television and speaking during a special hearing.

However, after Zira reveals that she's pregnant, suspicious presidential advisor Dr. Otto Hasslein (Eric Braeden) injects Zira with sodium pentothal and gets her to reveal the truth about mankind's future. Hasslein recommends that Zira's baby be aborted and that both apes be sterilized, but the president (William Windom) rejects Hasslein's recommendation. While visiting Zira in the hospital, Cornelius becomes enraged when he finds out what Hasslein has done and he accidentally kills a hospital aide. Cornelius and Zira flee the hospital and are aided by Dixon and Branton, who hide them in a traveling circus owned by the kindly Armando (Ricardo Montalban). Zira gives birth to a male baby, but a manhunt ordered by Hasslein forces them to take refuge in an abandoned freighter. They're soon discovered and shot to death, but unbeknownst to Hasslein, Zira's real baby was left under Armando's protection and she substituted a newly born circus chimp in its place. At the circus, Armando talks to the real baby and it speaks the words, "Mama, mama..."

Whereas the first sequel slavishly tried to copy the style of the original film and continue its story--but foolishly eliminated its intellectual and philosophical content--by the time ESCAPE was made, the series had taken on a life of its own and become a pop-culture phenomenon. ESCAPE wisely goes off in its own direction, immediately setting the whimsical tone with the amusing pre-credits sequence where the military greet the astronauts and begin to salute them with "Gentleman, welcome to the United Sta..." but stop short and are stunned when the visitors remove their space helmets to reveal that they're apes. Accompanied by Jerry Goldsmith's dippy electric-bass and sitar score, the film then evolves into a lighthearted satire of media and celebrity that cleverly reverses the premise of the original by putting the apes in a human "civilization." Zira and Cornelius, the two so-called "ape-onauts," are whisked around LA in a hilarious montage showing them shopping for clothes and being interviewed on TV; and while Cornelius goes to a prizefight, which he finds "beastly" (and is refereed by famous Hollywood gossip columnist Army Archerd), Zira addresses a women's club on sexual equality.

The script also makes some telling points about animal research for "scientific" purposes and thoughtfully explores the concept of time travel and infinite regression. Former actor Don Taylor directs smoothly and efficiently and elicits fine performances from the cast, highlighted by the warm relationship between Zira, (a touching Kim Hunter) and Cornelius, knowingly played by Roddy McDowall, who returns in the role after being replaced in the first sequel because he was directing a movie (TAM-LIN) at the time. The ending is surprisingly tragic (as were most of the films in the series), but shrewdly sets up the story for the next entry, the ultra-dark CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (1972). (Violence.) leave a comment

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