Hollywood is a special place. It is a place where a studio can blow up our entire planet, yet still find a way to continue a movie series. That takes some skill, and thankfully for Planet of the Apes, it is the best thing that could have happened to the sequels.
Sure, it is a stretch to assume primitive apes with no computer or flying knowledge could salvage the ship that crashed in the original movie. At the very least, writer Paul Dehn (returning from Beneath) does not ignore the issue, providing a thin yet movie-plausible explanation. In fact, Dehn creates a character, Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo) specifically to explain how it all happened. He is abruptly killed off (by a man in a rather awful gorilla costume) after serving his purpose.
Once past that small bump, Escape becomes the best of the four sequels, and in all honesty, not that far off from the original in terms of entertainment value. Cornelius (thankfully played by Roddy McDowall again) and Zira (Kim Hunter) are accepted by our society. For a while, they actually live a lavish life, enjoying parties and fancy clothes.
The humorous undertones are necessary. At a committee hearing to determine who these apes are, Zira mentions herself and Cornelius are married. A priest immediately shoots out of his seat as if he is offended by the idea. Escape wisely avoids the usual “fish out of water” clichés. Cornelius and Zira adapt quickly, their concerns about their new surroundings taken care of during the opening credits. There are no scenes of the apes trying to figure out the concept of a television, car, or radio. Anything humorous is purely character driven.
That sets up a tragic, emotional finale, one filled with an incredibly complex moral dilemma. The government learns that Cornelius and Zira are destined to be the first of the intelligent ape species that will eventually take over the Earth. Led by a fantastic villain Otto, played by Eric Braeden, the back-and-forth conversations are engrossing. When Zira learns she is pregnant, the debate over the unborn ape rages, and oddly, despite being a villain, it is not difficult to see his side (outside from his fanaticism).
Their child will be the first of many intelligent apes who will enslave mankind far into the future. Eventually, the human/ape war will destroy the entire planet. Morality plays a role in killing a child though, and as one character states, if we knew what Hitler would become, could we kill him in cold blood as a child for doing no wrong?
It is these conversations, these debates, and these discussions that make the Apes series so immensely involving, not to mention unique. Escape may not contain the best symbolism of the series, but it carries the most weight. It is a polarizing film in terms of its script, but one done in such an entertaining way that no matter which side you take, it is a joy to watch.
Escape offers a bit of a difficult technical assessment. There is little doubt Beneath looks better, offering better sharpness and detail. Escape, while lacking in those regards, is the first to feature vibrant, saturated, color. Primaries are bold, especially the red shirt worn by Natalie Trundy. The flowers delivered to the Apes hotel room are covered with brightly colored plastic, brilliantly highlighted.
While the ape make-up comes through quite well, including the large head of fur, human faces do not. In fact, the dominant pink pigments and processed look of the opening scene certainly lead to fears of DNR. However, the grain is present, although not terribly noticeable either. Ringing is caught regularly against high contrast edges, even during the bit before the credits as the helicopters fly against the sky. Otto’s right shoulder during an interview segment at 33:06 also shows a bit of a halo. Faces, especially at a distance, can appear digital and smooth.
The source itself is generally in great shape. The usual round of “blink and you’ll miss them” white specks are easy to forgive. The bottom of the screen appears severely faded in a few spots, and at first seems to be a reflection on the lens of the camera during the apes early imprisonment. Later, when it happens at night, that theory goes out the window.
The ending sequence on the ship looks wonderful, presenting the consistent blacks, bright contrast, and detail better than they have before. The grain structure is also notable here, more so than it is elsewhere. The boat, including fencing, random wires, and debris, are clearly defined and visible. It seems completely untouched by anything digital. It could be a different film stock as well.
Jerry Goldsmith returned from his stint as composer for the original film, providing a very ‘70s synthesized score to Escape. At times, this uncompressed DTS-HD affair presents it as clean as it probably can be. Other times, such as the piano notes during the montage of apes around town, it comes off hot and unclean.
Certain cues come off quite loud, packing a punch but not offering much in terms of fidelity. The helicopters in the opening scene approach from a variety of angles, but the harsh nature of their rotors is more ear piercing than pleasing directional audio.
Dialogue carries the same level of clarity as the previous films, which means audible and clear without much distortion due to age. It is adequate all things considered.
The expected making of is again of high quality, if covering familiar territory for owners of the original. The Secret Behind the Escape is 16-minutes, covering the decision to make a sequel and how it all came about. Don Taylor Directs is some 8MM raw footage from the set, and fun to watch.
An isolated, uncompressed score track is available. Trailers, D-Box support, and two galleries remain.