DVD Review: ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES
12 – 93mins – 1971
Written by: Paul Dehn
Based on characters created by: Pierre Boulle
Directed by: Don Taylor
Starring: Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter, Bradford Dillman, Natalie Trundy, Eric Braeden, Ricardo Montalban, William Windom, Sal Mineo
Prior to the decimation of their world at Beneath's apocalyptic climax, intelligent chimpanzees Zira (Hunter), Cornelius (McDowall) and Dr. Milo (Mineo) managed to rescue and repair astronaut Colonel Taylor's sunken spacecraft from the lakes of the Forbidden Zone (as seen in the 1968 opener, reviewed HERE) and leave their embattled land behind. Caught in the same temporal distortion which previously stranded two human expeditions in their time, they are instead sent hurtling backwards; back to the 20th Century when man ruled the world and apes couldn't speak – much less wear clothes, use cutlery or fly spaceships!
Turning the tables on the already topsy-turvy core series concept, Escape from the Planet of the Apes is, ostensibly, the lightest of the sequels in tone – at least initially. Directed by Don Taylor (who went on to direct 1977's The Island of Dr Moreau; I'm picking up a definate animal-sapien theme here), this third entry in the evergreen Apes franchise provides a mirror image of the iconic original “fish out of water” plot, only this time man isn't the outsider. But will being on home soil change how we as a race react to that which is different to us? Don't count on it.
Deriving much culture shock humour from the misconceptions brought about by the global media circus surrounding the trio of tabloid-branded “ape-onauts”, you'd be forgiven for thinking Escape was being played for laughs – especially during a chirpy montage sequence where the chimps get measured for tailor-made clothes and Cornelius refuses to have his leg felt up! However, Paul Dehn's script never lingers too long on the monkey business (ahem) and never crosses the line into cheese. Most tellingly, it isn't long before mankind's fear of losing his dominance over nature overwhelms his scientific fascination and one man (Braeden's Dr. Otta Hasslein) steps up to “control” the “threat” he fails to understand.
Initially held in captivity at a zoo before being upgraded to a plush five star hotel, a heavily pregnant Zira and her over-protective spouse are initially sceptical about how open to be about the future of the human race, and their doubts are well founded, as they are first interviewed, then interrogated and subsequently drugged to extract the truth from them – a truth which man cannot bear. Soon the former toasts of the town are on the run from their fickle and untrustworthy admirers and a tense oil rig showdown continues the saga's predilection for desolate, heart-wrenching finales.
Thankfully distancing this chapter from Beneath's bogus mutant misstep, Zira and Cornelius assert that the pacifistic chimps are ignorant to the enemy the ape army marched on in the fateful underground battle. Taylor's story is also well laced into the plot; particularly as the film opens with the long-lost U.S. vessel already capsized in the ocean, leaving it up to the first time flyers to report the events during a demanding public inquiry. The film's darker elements – including Dr. Milo's early exit and the shockingly pessimistic ending – stop the quirky comedy from overpowering the drama, while a ray of hope remains as the credits roll that man has not completely extinguished this evolutionary anomaly... Life will find a way.
In a CR@B Shell: Another Apes-equel and another fresh, disparate story; this idea really does have legs! Escape may have dated due to its 70's setting, but it's a captivating and endearing tale which doesn't lose its message amongst all the kitsch hullabaloo – and it isn't scared to stretch its emotional range, much to its unpredictable advantage.