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“It's a bloody nightmare!”

Cast: James Franciscus (Brent), Kim Hunter (Zira), Maurice Evans (Zaius), Linda Harrison (Nova), Paul Richards (Mendez), Victor Buono (Fat Man), James Gregory (Ursus), Jeff Corey (Caspay), Natalie Trundy (Albina), Thomas Gomez (Minister), David Watson (Cornelius), Don Pedro Colley (Negro), Tod Andrews (Skipper), Gregory Sierra (Verger), Eldon Burke (Gorilla Sergeant), Lou Wagner (Lucius), Charlton Heston (Taylor).

Story by Paul Dehn and Mort Abrahams. Screenplay by Paul Dehn. Directed by Ted Post.

STORY:

In the desert of the Forbidden Zone lies the wreckage of a crashed spacecraft, this time carrying a rescue party for the missing Colonel Taylor and his crew. Before his skipper dies of injuries sustained in the crash, astronaut John Brent informs the dying man that they have travelled through a Hasslein Curve – a bend in time and that they are stuck on an unknown planet in the year 3955!


After burying his skipper, Brent hears the sound of a horse. In the distance is beautiful scantily clad woman on horseback – Nova. Assuring the girl that he means no harm, Brent notices a set of dog tags around her neck, Taylor’s dog tags.

Having disappeared in the Forbidden Zone, Taylor’s last orders to Nova were to find Zira.  Brent climbs up into the saddle behind the mute girl and orders her to take him to Taylor, They move off, heading towards where Nova has been told to go by Taylor.

Outside a city, Brent’s mind reels, he cannot believe what he is seeing – a city of talking apes, and once more the apes are going to war spurred on by the gorilla general Ursus, with the unknown denizens of the Forbidden Zone who they think are responsible for abducting gorilla patrols.  Nova takes Brent to the home of Cornelius and Zira who are surprised to see another talking human. Zira tells the astronaut that they loved Taylor and that he must find him.

Brent and Nova hide when Dr Zaius calls to inform the two chimpanzee scientist that he is accompanying General Ursus and the gorilla army into the Forbidden Zone.

After being captured by a gorilla patrol and escaping the city of the apes with the help of Zira, Brent and Nova hide in a cave at the edge of the Forbidden Zone. It is in this cave that Brent at last realises the planet he is on is in fact Earth, speculating that man has attained his current position on the planet through the folly of nuclear war.

Hearing an electronic hum, the two humans encounter a city of humans built under the remains of what was once New York. Brent enters an old cathedral, which now houses what seems to be a nuclear missile. The inhabitants of the city capture Brent.

Meanwhile, the gorilla army makes its way through the desert and is almost routed by illusions created by the humans in the underground city, a race of telepathic mutants. Dr Zaius sees through the tactic and in the battle of wills between ape and mutant he is victorious and the army continues on its way to a showdown with the mutants.

The ruling body of the underground city questions Brent telepathically, questioning which involves Brent being assaulted by illusions and in turn being forced to assault Nova. Giving in to the mutants’ torture, he informs them that the apes are marching on their city.

At a twisted religious ceremony where the mutants pray to their god, the atomic bomb, Brent and Nova discover the final secret of the mutants. At the climax of the ceremony they peel off their human faces revealing themselves to be radiation-scarred shadows of humankind.

Brent is taken to a cell, which houses another inmate – Taylor. A mutant tries to eliminate the two men by telepathically getting them to fight each other, but his train of thought is disrupted by Nova, giving the two men the opportunity to kill the mutant.

Brent tells Taylor about the bomb, Taylor recognising it by the two Greek letters on its tailfins ­ Alpha and Omega – the doomsday bomb!

The gorilla army at last enters the mutant city, machine-gunning everything and everybody in sight; Nova herself becomes the victim of an ape bullet.

Brent tries to persuade Taylor that they’ve got to stop the bomb from detonating; Taylor just agrees that they should finish it. Leaving Nova’s body the two men head for the cathedral, which is now under ape control, the Alpha/Omega bomb having been felled from its position by the gorillas.

Taylor attempts to stop Dr Zaius from inadvertently activating the bomb’s control panel, but is shot and mortally wounded by General Ursus who is in turn killed by Brent. As the dying Taylor crawls towards Zaius, ape sharpshooters kill Brent in a hail of bullets.

Taylor and Zaius confront each other one last time, as ever poles apart in philosophy, Taylor’s last act is to fall upon the doomsday bomb activation switch. The screen goes white and then black, a disembodied voice intones:

 “The universe, at present, contains billions upon billions of spiral galaxies. In one of them, one third from the edge, is a medium-sized star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead.”

 

COMMENT: With sequels it is usually the law of diminishing returns that rules the day, but Beneath is a well of riches. Writer Paul Dehn (one of the writers of the Bond movie, Goldfinger) expands on the finale of Planet – theorising that as well as a half-buried Lady Liberty there is a half buried New York under the planet of the apes.

The mutant society is excellently realised (with the help of leftover sets from Hello Dolly), the structural decay mirroring the physical decay of the mutants. Dehn’s screenplay owes a nod to the SF novel by Walter M. Miller – A Canticle For Leibowitz, in the mutants’ worshipping of an atomic bomb.

Director Ted Post, a veteran of TV and fresh from the Clint Eastwood western Hang ‘Em High, like Schaffner before him, gets great performances from the cast. James Gregory’s war mongering speech near the beginning is particularly memorable.

It is James Franciscus as the bewildered astronaut Brent that stands out as the tent pole that holds the film up to repeated viewing. Some reviewers have dismissed the late actor’s performance as Heston Lite, but Franciscus’s portrayal of a man on the edge of losing his sanity due to his situation but still trying to complete his mission his riveting.

Composer Leonard Rosenman provides the score this time round, and instead of duplicating Goldsmith; he opts for a multilayered approach.

While the film ends on a low note, the complete destruction of the planet Earth, how the narrative reaches that point is compelling, and would be echoed in big screen science fiction later down the road.

TRIVIA:

- Once again the full size mock-up of the spaceship from Planet is called into action, this time it has a leftover spaceship prop from Lost in Space tacked on behind it!

· Blooper! Brent crashes in the year 3955, 23 years before Taylor crashed in the first film. It is the 3955 date that becomes canon however.

· Charlton Heston did not want to appear in the sequel, feeling sequels were lesser endeavours. He agreed to do the film as a favour to studio chief Richard Zanuck who had greenlighted the first film, and that his would be donated to a public school.

· Due to budget cuts an underwater sequence where Brent and Nova escape from an ape patrol was lost.

· Director Ted Post was disappointed with the concepts for the mutant makeup and suggested that they should appear as if the top layer of the skin had been peeled off – the look used in the film.

· It would seem that the gorillas have been keep a stockpile of machine guns for special occasions, in the first film they only had rifles!

· Charlton Heston came up with the idea to destroy the planet at the end of the movie. He thought it would put an end to any future sequels. In an earlier draft of the script, Taylor, Brent and Nova escape, the bomb detonating underground with less intensity than in what was filmed.

- written by Peter Noble