Turn Around, Bright Eyes: Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

The Planet of the Apes film franchise consists of, to date, eight films released between 1968 and 2014. Each week, venerable Apes mega-fan Max Robinson and inquisitive relative newcomer Dylan Roth journey to the center of the Planet of the Apes experience, one movie at a time. This is Turn Around, Bright Eyes. 


Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Directed by Ted Post

SYNOPSIS: “TO GO FURTHER INTO THE PLANET OF THE APES, WE HAVE TO GO…BENEATH” – Pitbull. Ted Post’s 1970 sequel finds a *new* NASA ANSA astronaut Taylor Brent crash landing on the future ape-run Earth. In his quest to discover the whereabouts of Taylor, Brad Brent finds himself between the even more militarized apes (led by the warmongering General Ursus) and a secret subterranean society of telepathic mutant humans who are like total dicks. THIS INSTALLMENT: EVERYBODY DIES!

Dylan: Beneath the Planet of the Apes is 50% retread from the original, 50% a completely different movie which has pretty much nothing to do with anything. It’s like they literally took the first half of one screenplay and the second half of another and then haphazardly wove them together like a shitty story quilt. 

Max: 20% More Planet of the Apes is a very frustrating movie. There’s a couple of things that I really like: General Ursus with his John Wayne swagger, some extra dimension on Dr. Zaius as he’s dragged unwittingly into this confrontation with the unknown danger that lurks in the Forbidden Zone, even the cheesy but perfectly ’70s set piece that is the mutant humans’ former Grand Central Station lair. But, like, all of that is overshadowed by how bland and unpleasant the vast majority of the film is.


Dylan: That blandness starts at the very top, with our new protagonist Taylor Tyler Trent Brent (James Franciscus) who’s basically a shorter, less charismatic version of Charlton Heston’s leading man from the original. Franciscus was clearly cast based on how closely he resembles Heston, and how the two of them could be indistinguishable on the sketch & oil painting-style movie posters of the day. We spent a good portion of last week’s column talking about some of the interesting choices behind Taylor’s character, whereas Brandon Brent is essentially no one. 

Max: If Taylor is Coca Cola, Bart Brent is a day old glass of Diet Pepsi that a fly died in. Taylor’s “last rational man on a world gone mad” anger means his inertia as a character works, Ben Brent literally just wanders from set piece to set piece without much of an opinion on anything. I mean, I appreciate that we didn’t get ANOTHER movie of a bearded astronaut freaking the fuck out over Ape Jesus but I dunno man, give us something to latch onto here. Escorting Brennan Brent across the sun-scorched Ape hellscape is Nova, Taylor’s mute female companion from the original film who is essentially shameful human luggage.

Dylan: Nobody really has much of a character arc in Beneath the Planet of the Apes, but here’s Nova’s thread throughout the film: she loses Taylor, she finds Bort Brent, she gets drowned, then strangled, she finds Taylor and says her first word (“TAYHHLORRR”), gets shot, and dies. Well, I guess everybody dies, but she dies first. I don’t know what’s more stunning: how little of an impression she makes in the film, or how little an impression anyone makes. The most memorable character in this film is Ursus, and he gets maybe ten minutes of screentime.


Max: Nova wasn’t a great character in the last movie either but I think having Kim Hunter’s fiery Zira as a commanding lead helped you overlook that a little. We watched this movie three nights ago and I don’t remember anything that Zira does in this one besides fail to tell two white guys apart (fair enough) and pretend her husband struck her as a weird Three’s Company-style gag (whateverrrr).

In general there’s a pretty dull contrast to the colorful, interesting ape society stuff of the last movie going on here. Aside from Ursus’ pretty interesting speech, there’s a really half-assed stab at relevance with some young chimp protesters getting brutalized by gorilla soldiers and a bunch of background extras wearing monkey halloween masks. 

Dylan: The opening act of Beneath the Planet of the Apes promises some new insight into Ape society and its weird simian caste system, but once Brak Brent discovers the human doomsday cult the movie basically forgets that this is supposed to be a movie about a Planet of Fucking Apes.

Max: This movie has atleast 30 ape-less minutes and that is, frankly, unacceptable. 

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Dylan: If I wanted to see a bunch of humans worship an atomic bomb, I’d be watching The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, thank you very much. Yes, I understand that this is meant to be a cutting satire of death-worshipping fire-and-brimstone religion and patriotism, but beyond the basic premise of “these guys literally think this bomb is god!” nothing interesting ever comes of it. 

Max: Here’s what we know about this movie’s mutant humans who live in the Old New York from Futurama:  They worship a giant nuclear warhead, they got messed up faces, they love to sing and they really like to own nerds with their telepathic beeps and illusions. “The last remaining humans are distant, cruel wackjobs with powers” is a cool idea but also this is Planet of the APES not Planet of the Guy Who Played King Tut on Batman ‘66, y’know? 


Dylan: Here’s something for which I have to give the film some credit—it is not predictable. I mean, events occur pretty much out of nowhere with little or no explanation, but still… I have to say, I did not see the ending of this film coming at all: Taylor uses his last breath to doom the Earth to nuclear apocalypse, punishing the stupid humans and stupid apes alike. Much of my surprise came from the foreknowledge that there are three more films in this continuity. I have no idea where the story’s headed. They blew it up, those maniacs. 

Max: Pour one out for Brisket Brent. Planet of the Apes gave us one of the most iconic endings in film history: Taylor, angry and impotent before a ruined Statue of Liberty. Beneath the Planet of the Apes had to deliver a visual of similar weight and significance, and the end result is the like a Halo session where you and your friend accidentally blow each other up. “Nothing matters!” this movie screams at us with a megaphone as we try to walk past it. Beneath even ends with a huge slam on Earth out of nowhere via over the top downer narration that more or less shames us for even caring about any of this.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes

Max: BUT ENOUGH ABOUT THAT: Dylan…Which Ape Was Your Favorite Ape? General Ursus gets my vote for Most Valuable Primate. James Gregory puts a lot into that performance and also we saw his giant naked body. 

Dylan: Jesus, I forgot about the naked Ape schvitz scene. Max, I’m also going to choose General Ursus as my favorite ape, if for no other reason than General Ursus’s hat is technically ineligible

Max: NEXT WEEK: How does a film franchise recover from killing off every single character at once? IN STYLE. 

Check back in seven days, as Ricardo Montalban and Grape Juice Plus star in Escape from the Planet of the Apes!

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