Monday, June 13, 2016
Escape From The Planet Of The Apes!
Escape from the Planet of the Apes does a very nifty job of almost literally flipping the script on the series and does a great deal to inject interest into a franchise that might have gotten awfully moth-eaten had they just churned out another movie akin to the first sequel. Enough of Ape City, enough of humans among apes, let's see how we humans look when we have the upper hand.
And I love how the apes just show up as the credits appear. It's done with elegance and simplicity, the only scene in the entire canon the equal of the first glimpse of the apes on horseback in the debut movie. I can imagine it done today and it would involve lots of computer graphics and likely have not half the punch of three astronauts merely removing their helmets and changing the course of Earth's history in the process. It was the end of a Twilight Zone episode but it was just the beginning of this movie.
Now that's not to say this is a perfect movie, it's not. The budget still seems small compared to the story it tells, and the aroma of "B" hovers just above the proceedings but doesn't quite swallow it up. There are never quite enough soldiers in a scene and not enough traffic in the streets to really make you buy it all the way. Always it feels a bit like a movie.
Some great stuff from Bradford Dillman as Dr. Lewis Dixon and while she has little to Natalie Trundy as Dr. Stephanie Branton is harmless as the scientists who befriend the apes. Of course Kim Hunter as Zira and Roddy McDowell as Cornelius are delightful. Hunter had very little to do in the earlier sequel and McDowell was replaced by another actor, but here they shine, their chemistry as the Lucy and Desi of the chimpanzee world is charming.
But the figure who dominates the narrative and the film is Dr. Otto Hasslein, a scientific advisor to the President of the United States. Hasslien's name had surfaced in both earlier apes films as the scientist who had predicted the time travel aspects of the space flights. So it was neat to see him finally and I was surprised to see he was so relatively young. Played by actor Eric Braedon (longtime star of The Young and the Restless) Hasslein comes across as cold and ruthless in his efforts to save the planet. You are convinced that's his goal but his methods are murderous and treacherous, though his goal is ultimately noble.
Contrasted with Hasslein is the circus operator Armando played by Ricardo Montalban, who of course will be a key part of the next movie. Armando is a warm and trusting character who seems intuitively to understand the nature of the threat to Cornelius and Zira and who is willing to put himself on the line to save them.
The core message of this movie is how the inhumane treatment of both humans and animals is equated. While there is no one-to-one approximation, with both sides seeing that their victims were "lesser creatures" in some respects, the way this story builds that empathy for victims of experimentation is very strong indeed. Both sides realize that what they do seen in the context of the other culture seems barbaric.
Seeing the story of the first movie reversed with the apes stranded in a human world offers up neat comparisons, and frankly us humans come off quite well. Hasslein compares to Zaius as a nominally learned man who is controlled by his convictions that the other species offers a fatal threat to the society as they know it. Zira and Cornelius though seem to be treated (at least initially) with more tender care than Taylor is, as they have advocates quickly on. Maybe it's the primitive nature of the Ape society relative to the modern human world of the 1970's, but it's clear they are celebrated, albeit briefly.