Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) — Welcome back to the monkey house

“What the hell would I have to say to a gorilla?”

Drake’s rating: And you thought the first film was bleak!

Drake’s review: Previously, on Planet of the Apes: After a spaceship crash lands on a strange new world, three astronauts find themselves hunted by gorillas on horseback. One astronaut in particular, Taylor (Charlton Heston), makes a nuisance of himself by refusing to get quietly vivisected and escapes into the Forbidden Zone. Finding the remnants of the Statue of Liberty, he realizes that he’s right back on planet Earth and damns us all to hell. You. Me. All of us.

It took years of developmental hell before Planet of the Apes made it to the big screen. Studios were understandably wary of taking a risk on an expensive science fiction movie that involved talking apes, a concept many found absurd. But when the film was a hit (becoming the seventh highest-grossing film of 1968), a sequel was inevitable. After all, a studio would have to be bananas to leave potential money on the table.

So it was that Beneath the Planet of the Apes sprung into fruition. But how to continue the story? Well, if you’re Pierre Boulle, author of the novel that the first film was based upon, you write a script that starts 14 years later, with Taylor returning as the savior of humankind and leading them into battle with their erstwhile ape overlords. You also call it Planet of the Men. Considering how Planet of the Apes ended, that approach makes sense.

Sadly, you’ll have to file that treatment in the “sequels we’ll never see” category.

Instead, we pick up during the last few minutes of the first film, with Taylor and Nova (Linda Harrison) escaping from the clutches of the apes and finding the Statue of Liberty. From there they trek along the coastline and into the desert, and we then cut to a crashed spaceship. Yes, another one. Piloting is hard, y’all. One astronaut dies minutes later, leaving our hero Brent (James Franciscus) stranded by himself in the year 3955.

He’s not alone for long, however, as Nova comes riding up on the horse she and Taylor had taken. Through flashbacks we (although not Brent) learn that Taylor disappeared after a series of weird events in the Forbidden Zone. Nova takes Brent to the outskirts of Ape City, where our new astronaut hero learns that he’s on a world ruled by simians. Brent, being the sensible sort, immediately decides to beat feet, but he’s injured by a trigger-happy gorilla so Nova takes him to Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (David Watson), Taylor’s chimpanzee allies from the first film, for some first aid.

The film continues with Brent and Nova leaving Ape City, getting immediately captured by gorilla soldiers, escaping into the Forbidden Zone and finding an underground-dwelling race of mutants. Unlike Good Mutants, however, who worship at the altar of cult movies under the watchful eye of a benevolent dictator, these are Bad Mutants. They psionically torture their captives and pray to the Alpha Omega Bomb, a doomsday weapon capable of destroying the earth. And even now these mutants are preparing for an invasion, as the militant General Ursus (James Gregory) has decided to invade the Forbidden Zone with his gorilla army.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes suffers in comparison to its predecessor, of course. The lure of Planet of the Apes was the shock ending, with Taylor and the audience finding out he’s been on Earth the whole time. In Beneath, the viewer knows this already, and the only one left in the dark is Brent. That leaves the mutants and their “Lord Bomb” as the big surprise reveal. This works to an extent, but the mutants are a paper-thin construct with no thought given to how their society has functioned for so long in their subterranean home. What do they eat? How do they keep their robes so spotless and neatly pressed? And just where did they get those cool latex masks?

Budgetary issues plague Beneath as well. Cut from a proposed $5.5 million down to about $3 million, the second film loses the scenic locations of the original and scales down to a few key sets. Ape masks also suffer, with those of background apes being of obviously lesser quality than those worn by the major players. Obviously, they should have subcontracted these out to the mutant mask factory.

Despite these problems, Beneath the Planet of the Apes does work as a respectable sequel. James Franciscus brings a spirited energy to the lead role, in contrast to Charlton Heston’s cynical Taylor, while James Gregory happily chews the scenery as Ursus. And Linda Harrison gives the film a feeling of continuity in a fairly thankless role, even getting a single-word line this time around which dangles the possibility of a humanity able to evolve past their pitifully primitive state.

That prospect lasts about two minutes, and then things go full 1970s. If you thought the ending of Planet of the Apes was depressing, Beneath the Planet of the Apes says, “Hold my beer!” You have been warned.

Chad’s rating: James Franciscus is no Charlton Heston

Chad’s review: When most people hear Planet of the Apes, they think of the reboot series that started with 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Using groundbreaking motion capture technology that transformed actor Andy Serkis into simian messiah Caesar, those films had no right to be as good as they are. But it makes returning to the classic Apes franchise starring Charlton Heston, Roddy McDowell, and Kim Hunter a fascinating watch. And don’t get me started on the disastrous 2001 remake from Tim Burton, one of the odder pairings of director and source material.

The studio behind Planet of the Apes, 20th Century Fox, was stunned by its enormous success. Back in the 1970s, sequels to popular films were not a common practice, but Fox moved forward anyway, rushing into production Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Heston wasn’t interested in a sequel but was persuaded to return in a supporting role, creating a headache for the filmmakers. Also, Fox was in dire financial straits, so they slashed the budget in half, and it shows, resulting in a subpar follow-up to the iconic original.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes picks up immediately from the 1968 original, where Heston’s Taylor discovers the Statue of Liberty, one of the big twist endings of all time. Both Taylor and Nova (a returning Linda Harrison) wander the desolate Forbidden Zone in search of a new home when Taylor mysteriously disappears.

Desperately looking for help, the mute and child-like Nova stumbles upon a second starship that’s crashed on the future 3955 A.D. Earth. The only survivor is Brent, who is on an expedition to find Taylor’s doomed original crew. When Brent meets Nova, he notices Taylor’s dog tags, and she leads him back to the ape city. From there, we’re treated to a beat-by-beat repeat of the original 1968 film, with Brent in the Taylor role.

Once Brent and Nova escape and flee into the Forbidden Zone, they wander into an underground cavern that houses the remains of New York City. There they are captured by a second group of humans that, unlike Nova’s primitive version, have evolved and mutated due to their exposure to nuclear radiation. Even worse, these new humans have taken to worshipping an atomic device called Alpha & Omega, a warhead with enough power to destroy the entire planet.

But Bent and Nova have inadvertently led the ape army to the (new) New York City, who are on the warpath after learning the Forbidden Zone is occupied. Instituting military rule by the gorilla faction, the apes gather a massive army, leading to a clash between these two civilizations. When Brent meets Taylor, who’s been held prisoner by the mutant humans, they team up to stop the ensuing battle that could cause planetary Armageddon.

It’s disappointing that the filmmakers failed to retain Heston in the lead role, as he was one of the main reasons the original was so good. He’s easily one of the more watchable action heroes, and while he appears at the beginning and returns in the finale, his screen time is around 15 minutes. Also receiving reduced screen time are Kim Hunter’s Zira and Roddy McDowell’s Cornelius. In fact, McDowell was busy with another movie, so we’re left with David Watson doing a pale imitation of McDowell in the ape suit. Although this film sets up the subplot for the next Apes entry, Escape from the Planet of the Apes which has our beloved Cornelius and Zira traveling back to our (primitive) Earth.

This means we’re left with James Franciscus in the Brent role, essentially our stand-in for Taylor. But Franciscus is no Heston, lacking that twinkle in the eye that Heston brought to the original. Franciscus is a fine actor, and he would go on to a successful TV career in the ’70s, where his charisma was better suited for the small screen. Yet here, he plays Brent with all the seriousness like he’s doing Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Although, much like Heston, he has no problem stripping down to his skivvies to show off his lean, muscled body. In fact, this film is full of eye candy of all stripes, with Brent, Taylor, and the lovely Nova in various states of undress during most of its runtime.

Sadly, the low budget is apparent in many scenes. One of the more interesting subplots is the gorillas instituting martial law to wage war in the Forbidden Zone. But this requires hundreds of extra “ape” extras, with many wearing cheap-looking pullover masks, taking away from the groundbreaking makeup effects of the principal primate actors. And the mutant human makeup isn’t much better, with costumes looking like they were hijacked from famed 70’s nightclub Studio 54. However, I will give praise to the convincing background matte painting work. The sequence where Brent and Nova wander through the underground remains of New York, where we see the ruins of Wall Street and Radio City Music Hall, is full of cool, retro visual effects.

And I must hand it to the filmmakers for giving us one of the more hopeless, nihilistic endings that even had me mutter “hot damn” after the credits role. Yes, the “Alpha & Omega” bomb subplot is such a hard on-the-nose metaphor that you’re left with a black eye. But we get an exciting finale where our boy Heston finally returns and teams up with Brent to stop the rage-filled ape army. I don’t want to give anything away, but there’s a reason why Taylor, Nova, and Brent don’t make any return appearances in future POA sequels. I wish more modern-day action spectacles would give us bleak, cynical-filled endings that cut to black with a cold-blooded voiceover.

Beneath the POA is a decent enough watch if you’re a Planet of the Apes completist. It’s not great, but not totally horrible, either. This script needed the work of Twilight Zone mastermind Rod Serling, who co-wrote the original 1968 feature. As such, the nuclear annihilation and marital law metaphors lack the finesse of the social commentary from the first iconic feature. Yet none of this mattered in the end, as the movie was a big hit for Fox Studios, and they greenlighted a third sequel immediately. The original franchise had much more juice, with two more features and a short-lived TV series on the way.


  • Linda Harrison was originally slated to play the character of Zira, and did the original makeup tests for the role.
  • Roddy McDowall bowed out of Beneath the Planet of the Apes and was replaced by David Watson, but did star in the remaining sequels.
  • Burt Reynolds was approached for the role of Brent, but laughed that infectious laugh, hopped into his Trans Am, and peeled out in a cloud of tire smoke.
  • Reluctant to do the sequel, Charlton Heston finally agreed to shoot for eight days, with his salary being donated to his son’s school.
  • Doomsday weapons have gold-plated shells. They also have at least a 2000-year lifespan. They made ‘em to last back then!
  • Apes like saunas. Who knew?

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