Ted Post, Paul Dehn and Charlton Heston had thought that they had driven a steak through the heart of the "Planet of the Apes" franchise. The finale to "Beneath the Planet of the Apes" was designed to be just that, final. There was no way anyone could get around an ending that saw the Earth blown to bits......right?
What the creative minds behind the first two "Apes" films had failed to remember was the only true "golden rule" in Hollywood, "money talks", and when it came to this franchise it was talking very loudly.
Dehn was given the daunting task of writing another sequel. The only question was, how? An ingenuous plot was developed in which the apes from the future, Cornelius, Zira, and and a never before seen Dr. Milo, travel back in time to present day Earth. It was a brilliant idea. Not only would the film be a great platform for social commentary, the production could save money by not having to build futuristic props and scenery.
Although the premise for the film, in all honestly, was a bit far-fetched. The three ape scientists were to have been able to retrive Taylor's crashed spacecraft from the bottom of a lake, rebuild it, and figure out how to fly it before Taylor set off the doomday bomb.
Once you get past that, the rest of the story is far superior to just about any sci fi film produced in the 1970s.
The project was given a green light. Don Taylor was hired to direct and Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter were brought back to play every one's favorite simian couple.
"Escape from the Planet of the Apes" is generally considered by critics to be the best of the "Apes" sequels and I strongly agree with them. The film does a wonderful job of pointing out mankinds flaws. At first Cornelius and Zira are treated like celebrities, then after it is learned what lay in store for mankind in the future, they are hunted down and killed. In typical fashion, what man doesn't understand he destroys.
"Beware the beast man, for he is the Devil's pawn. Alone among God's primates, he kills for sport or lust or greed. Yea, he will murder his brother to possess his brother's land. Let him not breed in great numbers, for he will make a desert of his home and yours. Shun him, for he is the harbinger of death." - The Sacred Scrolls (POTA 1968)
The ending to "Escape from the Planet of the Apes" is a real emotional roller-coaster. You heart truly breaks when Cornelius and Zira are gunned down. There is Zira dying, her last two acts, to throw her infant into the water, and then crawl to her dead husband. Shakespear couldn't have written a more tragic scene. If this doesn't pull at your heart strings then you are truly not human.
The film opens with the apes splashing down off the Pacific coast. The navy hauls the ship to the beach, and the apes remove their helmets. They are quickly transported to seclusion for examination and are later moved to a secluded area of the Los Angeles Zoo. Milo (Sal Mineo) is killed by a noncivilized gorilla who was agitated by an argument between himself, Zira, and Cornelius, leaving the two remaining apes under the observation of two scientists, Stephanie and Lewis. Both discover the apes' power of speech. Meanwhile, a Presidential Commission has been formed to investigate the return of Taylor's spaceship and how the apes, which they already are aware are atypically intelligent, came to be aboard it. The apes then are brought before the Presidential Commission, where they reveal publicly their ability to speak, and are welcomed as guests.
The story of the plague that killed off all dogs and cats, as well as that of Ape slavery and subsequent uprising, is a retcon of both prior movies, wherein the apes do not know of their true past. Cornelius' claim that he had read history scrolls (kept secret from the masses) that detail the human downfall could be a way to rationalize the change, but fails to explain why he is as clueless as the rest of Ape society in the previous movies. He may have had access to them, off screen, during the presumed months prior to Beneath, when Zaius made Cornelius his proxy, or while he and Zira were traveling in the spaceship. Another conflict is that, according to Cornelius, the day of Aldo speaking the word "no" is an annual observance in their society.
The apes become celebrities, being lavished with presents and media attention. They are soon watched by a scientist, futuristic consultant Dr. Otto Hasslein (Eric Braeden), who discovers Zira is pregnant and fears for the future of the human race. He is determined to force the issue, gives Zira a truth serum to get information out of her and convinces the Commission to have the apes taken for proper questioning. Both are questioned under numerous means; as a result, Hasslein learns for himself that Zira examined and operated on humans in the future. Suspicion had already been aroused by Zira's letting slip, during public hearings, that she had dissected humans in the course of her work. More importantly, Hasslein learns how the human race will eventually meet its downfall and be dominated by simians, which will eventually lead to Earth's destruction.
The survivors, however, are unaware of the real fate of the infant ape; Cornelius, Zira, and Armando having switched babies before their final escape. Armando now watches over the infant Milo, who will grow up to become Caesar, the protagonist in the third and fourth sequels, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes and Battle for the Planet of the Apes. The film ends by showing the baby ape Milo sitting in a cage, plaintively speaking the words "Mama? Mama?" with the voice of a human child. This ending was purposely written so that the writers would have something with which to work, in case Fox Corporation wanted another sequel, although it was clearly stated in the DVD's bonus materials that this film was to be the end of the series and that Cornelius' speech should have made it full circle.