Posts Tagged ‘racism’

Two More Planet of the Apes Films

2 September 2008

Escape from the Planet of the Apes (Don Taylor, 1971)
This reverses the trajectory of the first two films and has three apes travel from their society to a fictionalised 1970s Earth. It’s not quite clear how they found and repaired Taylor’s ship, but perhaps it’s a sign of superior ape science. The characters have escaped from the climax of the previous film. As in Beneath, the captain dies, leaving Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall) to negotiate our “present” day.

Initially they hide their power of speech, but Zira lets it slip in frustration, Whilst they are viewed as bizarre celebs at first, they are clearly perceived as a potential threat and have to fight for their survival. This is all the more vital when they discover Zira is pregnant.

Here it is the apes who experience racism, or at least the xenophobia of a species under threat. There is almost the sense of this becoming an escaped slave narrative. My sympathies, at least, lie with Zira and Cornelius.

A clever attempt to extend the franchise beyond the ending Heston wanted for it in Beneath.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (J. Lee Thompson, 1972)
Here the events are set in the 1990s, after a virus has wiped out the cats and dogs. Apes have been kept as pets and trained as servants – and it is pretty obvious as slaves. Caesar the talking ape (Roddy McDowall) stays in hiding with a circus, at risk of execution if he is discovered. When Armadano (Ricardo Montalban) the circus ringmaster is arrested, Caesar has little choice but to become a slave. But soon he is fomenting rebellion.

In what is either a failure of nerve at the allegory, the one other decent human being MacDonald (Hari Rhodes) is black, and this fact is used repeated to point to the slavery/race metaphors. He rescues Caesar from being executed and acts as a moral compass. This is the most violent of the films so far.

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Beneath the Planet of the Apes (Ted Post, 1970)

31 July 2008

Wooden sequel to Planet of the Apes, beginning where the last one left off: chimps Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), orang utan Dr Zaius (Maurice Evans) and humans Tyler (Charlton Heston) and Nova (Linda Harrison) are on the beach and Tyler and Nova ride off to have the big revelation that explains why everyone speaks English: this is a post nuclear America. Cut to another crashed ship – some crew are presumably dead, Captain Maddox (Tod Andrews) is dying and Brent (James Franciscus) doesn’t have a hair out of place. They seem to have come looking for Taylor’s mission, although this would make no sense given the distances involved and the lack of any means of sending a mayday call. Brent goes a wandering and bumps into (small world) Nova, who can’t tell him where Taylor is because she can’t speak, but they travel together to witness an ape war council and to meet Zira and a strangely changed Cornelius (David Watson). We find out – in flash back – that Taylor vanished through a rock.

The gorillas want to annex the Forbidden Zone for more agriculture, and to liquidate more humans. This is going to tred on the toes of an odd sect who are protecting the area with telepathic special effects and who worship a nuclear missile in St Patrick’s Cathedral. (I must come back here when I’ve read Riddley Walker.) The sect with their masks doesn’t make sense, and their pacifism only allows them to force their enemies to kill each other (so that’s okay then) but if necessary they will use the missile. Taylor, noted hater of human and, more recently, apekind and no fan of the nuclear apocalypse, decides that he will set it off – although preumably Heston’s wish to kill the franchise is the real logic at work here.

Sequels are just retreads of the original with a bigger budget (although actually I believe this one was smaller. More apes, more humans, more apocalyptic special effects – but equally more confusion. Obviously we get the segregation of apes and treatment on humans as being a commentary on race and racism, but 1970 is surely a little late to credit someone as “Negro” in the cast.

The other point that stood out is when Zira is hiding Brent and Nova, blood is noticed on her face. Zira explains that Cornelius had struck her. This is accepted as fair enough. But then women here are simply to serve men and reproduce.