A research institute is completely buried when a massive earthquake strikes. A laboratory assistant and two children escape death when they accidentally freeze themselves in cryogenic chambers. They are revived in a world populated by intelligent apes; a world from which the human race seems to have entirely vanished.
This film doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. For a start, our protagonists don’t really seem all that bothered about where they’ve woken up. Are they actually in the future? Or perhaps an alternate reality? Or maybe even on another planet? Who cares? Certainly not little brat Johnny who’s too busy telling us that he doesn’t, and generally being very annoying. They probably do talk it over at some point; only we’re not privy to those discussions. Why not? Because this film is actually cut down from a 13 year old Japanese TV serial called ’Saru No Gududan’ (1974), which roughly translates as ‘Army of the Apes’. That show ran for 26 episodes of half an hour each; a total of over 13 hours. So, a high level of incoherence in a 97 minute version is fairly inevitable.
This is the work of US distributor Sandy Frank, who specialised in taking Japanese product and knocking it into shape for the U.S. market. The original show was probably aimed at children and a fairly shameless rip-off of the TV series ‘Planet of the Apes’ with Roddy McDowall, which would have been running at the same time. In fact, ape politics don’t seem to have moved on at all since the days of Charlton Heston as the intellectual simians behave decently and the military lot are a decidedly dodgy bunch. Chief villain is General Geber (pronounced ’Gaybar’ in the U.S. dub!) who believes humans responsible for the death of his son, until a passing UFO informs him that it was his own fault, after all. Eventually, we discover that the whole mess is down to SkyNet – sorry, UECOM — a malicious super computer built by stupid scientists who ’meddled in things that man must leave alone.’
This is pretty ropey stuf all told. Yes, we’ve lost about 11 and a half hours of the story, but you can’t help but feel that it was probably for the best; even though we’ve sacrificed a lot of logic and sense along the way. The ape makeups aren’t the worst, but certainly not the best, and the plot revolves around the usual captures, escapes, random rescues by UFO, laughable fisticuffs and half-hearted messages about tolerance and brotherhood. Apes in the distant future seem to dress suspiciously like Japanese people from the 1970s as well.
Unusual and disparate story elements combined with such poor execution could have made for a slice of enjoyably hokey entertainment, but the final product is simply rather tedious. There are some laughs to be had along the way, of course, but when the (tiresome) climax eventually arrives it’s quite a relief.