KLAATU YOU (32)
August 5, 2020
One in a weekly series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of our favorite pre-Star Wars science fiction movies.
BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES | d. TED POST | 1970
In the closing scenes of Beneath the Planet of the Apes, a chorus of mutant humans sing a hymn of devotion to the Atomic bomb. “Glory to the Bomb and the Holy Fallout” they harmonize as the gold plated Doomsday device rises into launch position with phallic portent.
The scene is so laughable that it would be impossible to parody. The movie, made in 1970, and which is a sequel to the deserved 1968 hit Planet of the Apes, is a lightweight re-tread of the original film. The character of Brent (James Franciscus) is a stand-in for Charlton Heston’s hunkier Taylor and his arc is a watered-down version of Heston’s more intense and revelatory journey.
It would be a hoot to write an appreciation of the film’s more over-the-top moments if it were not the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6th. Seen through the lens of that real-life event, where at least 140,000 people lost their lives, the implications of Beneath the Planet of the Apes take on an unintended relevance for today.
The conceit of the film is that humans unleashed a nuclear war which destroyed civilization as they had known it. In the aftermath, the apes have risen to power and subjugated the humans who they believe to be a lesser, but dangerous, breed of primates. “Let him not breed in great numbers”, intones a chimp at the start of the film, “for he will make a desert of his home for years.”
America indeed made a desert of Hiroshima. As previously top-secret photographs discovered fifteen years ago in a suitcase left abandoned on a street corner in Watertown Massachusetts revealed, post-bomb Hiroshima was a flattened landscape of twisted girders, broken concrete and charred timbers (full transparency: I wrote about the story of the lost photographs here).
When Brent and Nova (Linda Harrison) are pursued by the bandy-legged apes, they discover an entry to the underground remains of the Forbidden Zone. As imagined by the set designers, it’s a studio-built vanilla version of true nuclear destruction. Brent dusts off a mosaic for the Queensboro Plaza and then spies a poster for a New York Summer Festival lying on the disused tracks. Slowly it dawns on him: these are the post-apocalypse remains of a city he used to call home. “My God,” he says with portentous awe, “did we finally do it?”
In 1970 MAD, or Mutually Assured Destruction, had successfully kept Russia and the United States from destroying each other during the Cold War. But the fear of nuclear attack was a potent undercurrent to the culture, and Beneath the Planet of the Apes is a testament to that fear. The climax, when most of the main characters are killed off, and the dying Heston purposefully triggers the Bomb, was shockingly annihilistic.
There is a powerful irony watching the film in August 2020. For seventy-five years America feared nuclear destruction from an outside enemy, a “rain of ruin”, in President Truman’s threatening words. Instead, the deaths we caused in Hiroshima are mirrored back to us on this anniversary: 150,000 dead (and rising) not from a nuclear attack but from the coronavirus, a devastation we have unleashed against ourselves, just as the apes had warned.
KLAATU YOU: INTRODUCTION by Josh Glenn | Matthew De Abaitua on ZARDOZ | Miranda Mellis on METROPOLIS | Rob Wringham on THE INVISIBLE MAN | Michael Grasso on THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN | Gordon Dahlquist on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | Erik Davis on DARK STAR | Carlo Rotella on THE OMEGA MAN | Madeline Ashby on KISS ME DEADLY | Adam McGovern on SILENT RUNNING | Michael Lewy on THIS ISLAND EARTH | Josh Glenn on WILD IN THE STREETS | Mimi Lipson on BARBARELLA vs. SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | Vanessa Berry on THE FLY | Lynn Peril on ATTACK OF THE 50 FOOT WOMAN | Peggy Nelson on SOLARIS | Adrienne Crew on LOGAN’S RUN | Ramona Lyons on THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH | Kio Stark on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Dan Fox on FANTASTIC PLANET | Chris Lanier on IKARIE XB-1 | Devin McKinney on IDAHO TRANSFER | Mark Kingwell on THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO | Luc Sante on THE TENTH VICTIM | William Nericcio on DEATH RACE 2000 | Rob Walker on CAPRICORN ONE | Gary Panter on ANGRY RED PLANET | David Levine on THE STEPFORD WIVES | Karinne Keithley Syers on ALPHAVILLE | Carolyn Kellogg on IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE | Sara Ryan on ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN | Lisa Jane Persky on PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE | Adam Harrison Levy on BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES | Gerald Peary on CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON | Susannah Breslin on A CLOCKWORK ORANGE | Seth on WAR OF THE WORLDS | James Hannaham on GOJIRA/GODZILLA | Lydia Millet on VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED | Matthew Daniel on FANTASTIC VOYAGE | Shawn Wolfe on ROLLERBALL | Erin M. Routson on WESTWORLD | Marc Weidenbaum on COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT | Neil LaBute on 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA | Vicente Lozano on DAY OF THE DOLPHIN | Tom Roston on SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE | Katya Apekina on A BOY AND HIS DOG | Chelsey Johnson on THE BLOB | Heather Kapplow on SPACE IS THE PLACE | Brian Berger on THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS | Anthony Miller on THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL.
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