Beneath the Planet of the Apes is a desperate film, seeking to recapture the same magic of the now classic original. The problem with that statement is “the same,” which is what nearly an hour of Beneath is. Brent (James Franciscus) crash lands on what he does not know to be Earth, learns of an ape civilization, gets captured, runs away, and figures out he is on his home planet.
Even worse, Brent is the Taylor (Charlton Heston) character all over again, albeit a friendly, more conventional hero. He even looks like Heston with the beard, further complicating matters.
Given what the writers were working with, it was inevitable that a new astronaut will have to experience the same emotions and realizations. It seems to move quickly, but then grinds to a halt when the action fails miserably to generate excitement. Brent’s brawl on top of the horse drawn prison carriage is as dull as they come. The decreased budget makes the awful ape masks (replacing the iconic appliances for nearly all ape extras), equally terrible matte paintings (the bus in the buried New York), and rear projection work stand out.
Beneath fails to advance the ape culture. You see some heavy handed symbolism in the form of war protestors, brutal training techniques, yet little of the political and moral discussions that made the original so captivating. It also loses Roddy McDowall in the role of Cornelius, replaced by a far less engaging David Watson. Since the role is so limited and brief, this is the least of Beneath’s worries.
The focus, at least after an hour of retread, is a race of mutant telepathic humans. If that is not a sign of trouble, it is hard to figure out what is. These humans, who apparently have the knowledge of Hollywood’s best make-up artists to create false faces, worship a doomsday bomb.
Leading up to the discovery of the telepathically gifted humans, Brent must endure a loud hum that turns into an ear-piercing screech. Not only does this sequel have the power to put an audience to sleep, it can wake them up just as easily, and then annoy.
Heston returns for the finale, dead set against appearing in any sequel, continuing his cameo role by fighting Brent against his will. The fight goes on far longer than it needs to, and without a point since the audience already knows the mutants can control Brent’s actions. Heston gets in his final words, arguing with Dr. Zeus who sticks firmly to his beliefs, even in the face of total destruction.
That brief flash is the closest Beneath comes to matching the power of the first film, grasping at brilliance of the original’s ending without reaching it. A near total failure.
Beneath’s encode is a hair better than its predecessor, mostly because of a lack of digital manipulation. Fox uses an AVC encode, as they do for all films in the original series, and provide an adequately detailed effort. The source is in excellent shape, with minimal damage, limited to minor specks. No severe damage is noted. Brent’s sweaty skin is always clearly glistening, and provides facial textures cleanly. The ape make-up, especially the hair, offers excellent definition in close.
Clothing, from the thick cotton of the underground mutants robes to the leather of the gorillas outfits, offers clear, defined detail. Foliage, trees, and other plants are preserved nicely, offering crisp environments. The ground underneath Brent’s dying shipmate has clearly individualized rocks and pebbles. Colors remain flat, appropriate considering the bleakness of the story.
Grain is left intact, spiking during many of the special effects shots, unavoidable given the process of their creation. However, the encode handles this admirably, with no artifacting. There is a softness to these scenes as well, and again, this cannot be helped. Black levels, especially when Brent first enters the subway, do not reach full black. Detail remains however. Otherwise, they remain stable, and deep enough deliver a sense of depth to the frame.
Oddly, the opening footage, lifted right from the ending original movie (the last three or so minutes), is unbearably soft, with garish edge enhancement. The wood frame that splits Zeus and Taylor carries green and red halos, as if it were in 3-D. This is not representative of the rest of the movie, which is a surprising step up.
A DTS-HD effort, aside from the dated, flat dialogue and other fidelity issues, is another step upward from the first. There is some definite surround use, such as the lightning bolts and fire from the visions Taylor experiences early. The ape council meeting, with cheering gorillas eager to enter into war, also has an enveloping quality. The screeching of the mutants entering into Brent’s mind is painfully loud, but does hit all available channels.
The score from new series composer Leonard Rosenman is fuller and richer. It mixes well with the other audio, and slightly catches on the low end, although it is certainly flatter than any modern musical cues.
Dialogue can sit low in the mix, especially as Taylor’s shipmate utters his final words. Still, there is a generally hollow quality, and the compressed mono mix that is also included is in some ways preferred. It tends to sound more natural, and not as harsh, with the exception of the score. Neither is dominant over the other.
From Alpha to Omega is a nicely done 22-minute making-of, certainly better than what most studios give to the quickie follow-up. Most of the information is contained in the documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes, included on the Blu-ray for the first film. An image gallery, trailers, D-Box support, and uncompressed isolated score track are also included.