Scrambling to survive the destruction of their society, 3 ape scientists go back in time to then-contemporary 1970s America. However, their search for refuge only serves to sew distrust and throws up questions on intervening against a potentially inevitable future…
How do you continue a franchise that tried its hardest to end after two films? In this particular case, the answer is the deus ex machina of time travel. That’s no exaggeration here either, as both Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter) go from having a glorified extended cameo in the previous film to somehow having procured Taylor’s ship from the 1968 original, figured out that the apocalypse was nigh and then used the aforementioned ship to time travel to safety. Bear in mind that zero of their previous appearance was used to allude to this plan, even subtly. That’s a lot to try and explain purely to rationalise a film’s existence. On top of all of this, a third, seemingly most intelligent member of the group, Milo (Sal Mineo) is introduced and written off within 15 minutes.
And yet, for all of the suspension of disbelief required for the main conceit of the plot to work, I can honestly say that Escape from the Planet of the Apes is significantly more coherent as a narrative than its predecessor, although it is slightly tonally mixed at times.
3 movies in, Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunterare the only surviving characters of the franchise. Thankfully, they were also standouts in the original and both are extremely comfortable in their roles here. In fairness, they’re given plenty to work with as they balance being both societal outsiders and keepers of a literally Earth-shattering knowledge. Perhaps more important than that, their chemistry is undeniable and they so effortlessly portray a loving couple that you root for them as the stakes raise.
Speaking of the stakes, they wouldn’t exist without the cast of “human“ actors, and they deserve credit also. First and foremost, Dr Otto Hasslein (Eric Braeden) is an excellent protagonist. He is faced with legitimate quandaries (the moral justification for attempting to alter a seemingly calamitous future) but is a villain purely because he refuses to acknowledge the boundaries for achieving a potentially better future.
On the protagonist side, we have Dr Lewis Dixon (Bradford Dillman) and Dr Stephanie Branton (Natalie Trundy). Initially brought in to study the strange apes, they quickly grow to respect and even admire them as equals. In effect, the doctors serve as an emotionally redemptive core for the human representation in the film and add a touch of nuance to what could have otherwise been a rather blatant “humans bad” story.
On that note, it would be remiss of me if I didn’t mention the character of Armando (the legendary Ricardo Montalban). Curiously, he settles into a slightly more morally ambiguous role. He appears as a partial saviour to the apes in the final act. However, he is also a circus owner who keeps apes captive for profit. The defence is merely that he’s decent to them in the process. I honestly can’t tell if the film truly views his actions as entirely heroic and I like that.
Unfortunately, I wish I could say that all of the film’s indecisiveness works in its favour. Unfortunately, as mentioned earlier, the film struggles with a consistent tone at times. There are stretches of mild comedy at various points that don’t quite gel with both the serious questions put forward by the plot and the rapidly raising stakes for our main protagonists. We go from hilarity caused by confusion over televisions and bubble baths, for example, to frank discussions about infanticide and sterilisation for the good of humankind within minutes of each other. That’s not to say that all of these scenes aren’t useful (every single one absolutely is for various reasons) but it does feel a bit like watching half of a gentle comedy and half of an intense chase movie.
At least where thematic consistency is concerned, the musical score will always deliver. Especially in the climax of the film with adrenaline-pumping drums and orchestra, where tensions are high and nobody is guaranteed to survive. All told, it’s great to see (or perhaps “hear” would be more appropriate?) Jerry Goldsmith return as he does a fantastic job of shifting tones in time with the action on screen and amplifying it as a result.
In conclusion, Escape from the Planet of the Apes deserves to be acknowledged as a solid retooling of a franchise that seemed content to be a duology and then felt compelled by its repeated success to continue. While it can’t quite be held up to the classic picture that started it all, the movie deserves credit for knowing which characters to focus on and proceeding to build a narrative core around them. It’s a rudimentary concept but one that works solidly here thanks to performances by actors who know their roles and a relatable story in spite of its time travel trappings.
Ranking: 3.5 Stars out of 5
Disney Plus Presentation
Escape from the Planet of the Apes is available on Disney+ in a maximum resolution of 1080p HD and standard 5.1 surround sound on compatibility devices. This is in line with the Blu Ray releases in the US and is actually better than the standard DVD sets officially available in Europe (though you can find region-free Blu-Ray box sets of the entire franchise from third-party sellers on Amazon if you want to take the chance).
Once again, Escape from the Planet of the Apes does not include an “Extras” tab on its page. Therefore, not even a standard trailer or “promo clip” is available.
Presentation Ranking: 4 stars out of 5
“Escape from the Planet of the Apes” is available to stream on Disney+ now in many countries including the UK and Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, The Netherlands and more.
What are your thoughts on “Escape from the Planet of the Apes”?
Jon has been a Disney fan all of his life. From wearing out those expensive VHS tapes and visiting Disneyland Paris as a child to becoming a huge fan of the MCU in adulthood, Disney has helped shape some of the happiest, most fun moments he can remember.