(Major Spoilers!!!) "Beneath..." has to rank as one of the meanest movies ever made in its treatment to its main character. Consider this...Brent wakes up to his space ship's crash landing, realizing it's 3955(?)[what happened to 3978?], so everyone he ever knew except Skipper is dead...then skipper dies too! He finds out that (gulp) apes rule, then gets shot for his discovery (same as Taylor). Is rewarded with white, stinging "vet" powder plentifully poured on his (still bleeding) gunshot wound, by Zira. Gets captured and sentenced to ape target practice; en route he gets an ape boot shoved into his larynx while said ape tries to pull his arm off. Escapes while apes on horseback fire their guns at him. Goes underground and realizes where he's at. Painful!...and the movie is only into its first 45 minutes. What else can happen to the poor guy? Well...as his mental stability starts heading toward the brink of insanity, he does some depressing sight-seeing, watches helplessly as mind control forces him to near drown Nova, then face telepathic inquisitors who proceed to scare the crap out of him with a whoosh of fire, fry his ear drums with high pitch sound waves, thought-project agonizing, searing pain that contorts his whole body and again, he watches helplessly as he's forced to near suffocate (poor) Nova with a brutal passionless loo-oong kiss. Then!... he's required to sit still during mass (for some people, this is very painful) and realizes that everyone else in attendance is a replicant of "Gray's Anatomy". He then catches up with friend Taylor (finally)...and Taylor proceeds to beat the crap out of him too, by kicking him in the face and chest, strangling him, shoving his back into cell bars with long sharp spikes sticking out, mercilessly stepping on his face, strangling him some more and delivering some shattering right hooks to the jaw (all under mind control, of course). After the fight, instead of friendly gossip, they realize they're about 100 yards away from an active bomb, not just any old bomb, but THE Doomsday Bomb. And they're trapped inside a locked cell. And an army of Militia Apes are attacking! Finally... escape! but Nova ain't coming. Back to the church, Brent witnesses Taylor (after spending the whole movie trying to locate him) get fatally shot, knows he's now alone and goes on a one man kamikaze assault with his one puny rifle against 100 gorilla sub machine guns. And if that ain't enough, THEN he runs out of ammo! And he doesn't even get the satisfaction of seeing Taylor's final efforts. What happens to him is what you'd want to see happen to the worst of villains, but not to the heroic character. After all this, it would have been better to stay in bed.
That aside, "Planet of the Apes" WAS a tough act to follow. "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" cinematography does border on spectacle and alot of credit should go to director Ted Post for getting alot more out of the half baked premise and limitations he was trapped in. Many still frames and action sequences from the film are just as epic-like, colorful and bizarre that is on par with (and in many instances, exceeds) the original; but the editing in the original surpasses the sequel!(not Ted's fault). Still..."Beneath's" camera angles are far superior than any of the sequels that followed. Composer Leornard Rosenman created a very eerie, foreboding music score that touches on some semblance to Jerry Goldsmith's music from the original, while taking it into a different direction that effectively captures the mood of the film that works perfectly. It's unavoidable that both "Planet" and "Beneath..." have a flavor of their own considering all obstacles, so it's appropriate that the both scores follow suit in different scales; they're both brilliant.
Charlton Heston can't be blamed for his lack of enthusiasm, considering what he was presented with. If a more fuller and better continuation of the story was better fleshed out...who knows (after all, look at his lone survivor interpretation from "The Omega Man", not far removed from his position at the end of "Planet..."). But a more diversified storyline was necessary that needed splitting the story between Taylor and the Apes which changed the flow of what followed previously...because the first movie was presented subjectively through the eyes of Taylor. The addition of the new elements that carried the narrative forward was not going to be consistent with director Franklin Schaffner's original subjective approach to the first "Apes" that made it so successful. So it's very appropriate that James Franciscus' 'Brent' is allowed to discover Ape City because the Apes are one of the main reason people would want to return to the story anyway. The other reason is Taylor! (and Nova). And that is the main problem. Because, NO sequel was ever planned for Planet of the Apes! If a storyline was preplanned then this may have paralleled author Pierre Boulle's excellent 'Bridge on the River Kwai' more closely if additional characters were already evident, like the way the story in 'Kwai' continued after William Holden escapes from the prison camp (as Heston did from Ape City) while the events flipped back and forth between Holden's increasing dilemma and that of Alec Guiness' misguided actions. Sadly, (because it's only 1967 before sequels were recognized as obvious cash cows) 'Planet...' didn't have the luxury of foresight of the epic possibilities that could have logically continued the story forward in the same care and quality. Thus we're left with a more emphasis on action orientation, less on character growth and a more speedy presentation that's intended to camouflage the story's inadequacy.
It's almost easy to say that "Beneath..." is better appreciated on its own merit, as an almost separate entity from "Planet..." because of its radical introduction to science fiction elements new to the story. But it's not that easy! Comparison is unavoidable!
On the many plus sides are: James Gregory's scene stealing 'General Ursus' that propels the conflict between ape and man (especially his rousing call-to-arms speech); Maurice Evans' 'Dr.Zaius' who steals scenes right back; the buried underground scenes, the Ape Army on the move, Cornelius and Zira's home; Brent and Nova's underground odyssey; the steam bath; more (if brief) views of Ape City and the cages; General Ursus' helmet symbolically backed by the many more militant gorillas; and the under rated James Franciscus who took upon himself to further flesh out more of his character's heroic attributes. And ANY scene with Taylor! that is all too brief.
One thing is near certain: "Beneath..." is never boring in its breakneck pace in storytelling. but it could have been better if there weren't so many 'egos' involved in the decision-making process of delivering a quality continuation of the Apes saga. Just think of the possibility if Nova was able to retain her pregnancy scene cut from the first film, the bomb wasn't doomsday, and she survives the end of the second film.
Still kind of fun entertainment!
6 out of 10