You would think Ape Law would
have something to say about that robe!
Regular readers of Stomp Tokyo may notice that we have actually given this film a higher rating than the original Planet of the Apes. Please let us explain before you write us nasty letters. We fully realize that Planet of the Apes is considered by some to be one of the greatest movies ever made, but our reviews are often written with the question "how much fun is this movie?" in mind. And from that perspective, Escape comes in way ahead of it's predecessor. Escape from the Planet of the Apes manages to continue a story that was pretty much impossible to continue, while at the same time wedding a humorous first half with a tragic second half.
At the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Taylor destroys the entire planet. Well, he was played by Charlton Heston. He's used to doing things on an epic scale. But how to continue the story of the Planet of the Apes when there is no planet?
Escape opens with the army recovering Taylor's spaceship off the coast of California in 1973. Needless to say, the ship has crashed. Of course it crashed, these spaceships have managed to crash three times in three movies. Apparently whoever designed them thought the Lawn Dart was the end-all and be-all of aerodynamic design.
The army is shocked to find that the crew has been replaced by chimpanzees. The chimpanzees turn out to be our old friends Zira (Kim Hunter), Cornelius (Roddy McDowell), and their compatriot Professor Milo (Sal Mineo). Early on, they pretend to be normal chimps and are put into a zoo while the humans try to find out what they were doing in the spaceship. However, when Milo is killed in a sudden outburst of stock footage, Zira and Cornelius decide to let the human scientists in on their secret.
Sal Mineo takes it in the neck.
Until this point, the film is obviously aping (get it?) the setup of the original Planet, though in reverse. But the reaction that the human world has to intelligent apes is quite different from the ape's reaction to intelligent humans. At first.
Zira and Cornelius are treated as celebrities by California society, moving from one personal appearance to the next like Kato Kaelin moving from one unsuccessful audition to the next. Watching the two chimpanzees sport the fashions of the early seventies is also hilarious, much like watching Kato Kaelin... ahh, this joke is running out of steam really fast.
The halcyon days of these early scenes are interrupted when the government finds out the secret the chimps hold in their heads: thousands of years into the future, apes just like Cornelius and Zira will inherit the world, and eventually destroy it. (Unbeknownst to our time-traveling chimps and the 1970's humans, the earth was actually destroyed when Taylor detonated a leftover nuclear super-bomb.) After much debate, a Presidential commission decides to try to head off the future by the only means possible. What happens next is tragic, and surprisingly touching.
This overall plot brings up the question of how time travel works in the Planet of the Apes universe. In this movie the timeline of the movies folds back on itself, like the carriage return of a typewriter after it's reached the end of the page. This begs the question of whether or not the time-traveling apes can change the future, or whether their appearance in the past actually creates the future they come from. The movie seems to hint that the second option is the answer, though we will explore this issue further in our reviews of the subsequent Apes movies.
Cornelius does at one point lay out a history of the future, one that brings up some interesting points. Cornelius explains that a plague will kill off all the world's cats and dogs, leading to the adoption of apes as pets, and then servants. Sometime after that, an enslaved ape by the name of Aldo will say the word "no" to a human, and apes will throw off the yoke of human oppression.
"You're gonna make it
The biggest question is, how did Cornelius learn this? In Planet, Cornelius was surprised to find out intelligent humans really exist, even though his archeological digs were beginning to lead him to believe humans might once have been civilized. Now he suddenly knows that humans had an advanced civilization, and even how apes fit into it. Moreover, he even claims that all of what he said was written in ancient scrolls!
The only reasonable explanation for this is that at sometime after Taylor left them, Zaius (who knew the truth all along, as evidenced by his last lines in Planet) showed Cornelius forbidden scrolls that held the true history of ape civilization.
An even better question is, how did the three apes get the spaceship working? The answer is that Dr. Milo, played by Sal Mineo in his last movie role, is an ape far in advance of his time, possibly by finding and covertly studying human wisdom that no one else knows about. Even so, that Milo could recover, repair, and learn how to operate an advanced spaceship, apparently with little help, in the short period of time that elapses between Taylor informing the apes that his spaceship has crashed in the inland sea and Taylor blowing up the world (It can't be much more than a couple of months, at most) stretches credibility, even for a movie that features talking apes.
Speaking of apes, it is odd that no one in the present of 1973 notices that the apes who climb out of the spaceship are much larger than normal chimps, and even walk upright. Perhaps we are supposed to just sort of imagine that Zira and companions are normal chimps, or maybe the Planet of the Apes movies take place in an alternate reality where apes normally walk upright.
For the second sequel to another movie, Escape From the Planet of the Apes is a surprisingly fun and textured flick. It has a pretty high intellectual content, and just when it threatens to get too depressing, we are treated to a sudden gratuitous cameo role by Ricardo Montelban as a circus owner. Coming after a movie as serious as Beneath the Planet of the Apes, Escape From Planet of the Apes is a shot in the arm for a series that desperately needed one.
For our younger readers, a typewriter is an old device that was used to commit words to paper before the invention of the word processor. It looks kind of like a computer, only without a screen and the ability to play Doom. If you would like to see one, simply consult this table:
If you at any time thought Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was (or is) the coolest show on Earth, look in your grandparents' attic.
If you at any time thought Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was the coolest show on Earth, look in your parents' attic.
If you at any time thought Land of the Lost was the coolest show on Earth, you probably used one in your lifetime.
If you think Murder She Wrote is the coolest show on Earth, you probably use a typewriter to this day, just like your role model Angela Lansbury.