The best sequel and arguably the best FILM in the entire original Ape series, 1971's ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES is smart, exciting science fiction that still holds up as great storytelling four decades later.
The clever approach starts with the very first image, a beach scene that could be 100 yards from the site where the Statue of Liberty was discovered by Charlton Heston in the original 1968 film classic.
Suddenly, a helicopter enters the frame and we see a spacecraft floating in the California surf.
We are circa 1973 and Taylor's original space craft has traveled back in time, hurtled through a worm hole by the destruction of Earth in the closing moments of "Beneath the Planet of the Apes".
Ingenious plotting, clever dialogue and a terrific cast then hurdles us through the next 98 minutes, as Cornelius (Roddy McDowell, OWNING this role) and Zira (the terrific Kim Hunter) adapt to modern LA.
At first embraced by the government and society, the apes bond closely with Dr Lewis Dixon (Bradford Dillman) and Dr Stephanie Branton (Natalie Trundy). Cornelius and Zira are the toast of the town, wined and dined and wowing everyone with their wit and intelligence.
But soon one man, Dr. Otto Hasslein (perfectly played by Eric Braeden) begins to question the future of the Earth and the role that the apes ancestors may provide in the destruction of the planet.
Cornelius and Zira go from celebrities to wanted fugitives nearly overnight.
The film is so well written by Paul Dehn (Goldfinger, Murder on the Orient Express) and so well acted by our cast, it emerges as one of the best sequels ever made.
McDowell and Hunter manage to convey a great deal of emotion behind the seventies makeup.
William Windom is strong as the President and Ricardo Montalban brings Khan like presence to his key role as Armando (if Khan was a kind circus owner).
Jerry Goldsmith provides a sparse but terrific music score for the film, leaving many key moments quiet, but punching up the main titles and closing action scenes with one of his best action scores.
The ending is so damn clever that you wish the two sequels that followed could live up to the promise, but they squandered this great film's set up mightily, getting worse as they went and becoming dumber and dumber.
If you haven't seen this one in awhile, check it out.
The dialogue throughout is intelligent, never pandering to a young audience or over explaining its science.
Kudos to Dehn's writing and Don Taylor's direction for making this one fast, enjoyable thriller that turned the Ape films on their head.
ESCAPE is a great ride, a classic sequel and gets an A.
Followed in 1972 by "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes".