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Ape-O-Thon 2001
BY G. NOEL GROSS | November 25, 2001







In mere moments yours truly will embark on a perilous journey that may well cause me to lose all sensation in my hindquarters. Yes, as a rabid fan of The Planet of the Apes franchise, I've decided to experience -- for the first time -- the recently-released, short-lived TV series in one 14-episode, 644 minute marathon of Ape-age. Will I survive? No man or monkey can say. But with the Lawgiver's grace, I shall endeavor to do my best:

10:30 a.m. My journey should clock in around 11 hours according to my pre-launch ciphering. While checking to make sure my glass of grape soda is topped off, I wonder if I could have gotten this madness sponsored. Seated comfortably on my faux leather couch. Check. Black "Planet of the Apes" logo ballcap secured. Check. Disc One in player tray. Check. Well, it's now or never.

Chuck Heston isn't Earth's only lousy pilot.
Episode 1 / Escape from Tomorrow: Astronauts Alan Virdon and Pete Burke hit an interstellar pothole that hurtles their ship from 1980 to a smoldering crash on an alien planet in the year 3085. They're pulled from the wreckage by CineSchlocker fave Royal Dano, a slow-witted, but TALKING human (1) who warns them that the apes who rule this land will surely kill them -- himself having just been treed by a young primate and his DOG (2). While nursing them back to health, Farrow shows off his forbidden "picture book" that features a stunning revelation for our heros -- a futuristic photo of New York City in the year -- ta-da-dum -- 2503!!! They can't go home. They're there already. It's not long before Dr. Zaius (Booth Colman) catches wind of their arrival. Ten years ago (3), the onery orangutan clashed with Chuck Heston in Part One and his look alike in Part Two, and so he's mighty anxious to dispose of these two unwelcome visitors (Ron Harper and James Naughton). They're captured, of course, and escape, of course, in what will become the pervading routine of this cat 'n' mouse series. Dr. Zaius' assistant Galen (Roddy McDowall) lets his curiosity about these as-tro-nauts stray into a friendship -- then past the point of no return when he accidentally kills a gorilla guard as Burke and Virdon escape their cell. Before scampering off into the sunset, the three fugitives make one last stop at the crashed ship to obtain a computer thingy that Alan hopes will help the men return to their own time.

1) Humans are unable to speak in the original films. Only subterranean-mutant decedents of nuclear-holocaust survivors communicate verbally.
2) Conquest of the Planet of the Apes revealed that humans first brought apes into their homes as pets -- and later servants -- when a worldwide epidemic killed all their beloved cats and DOGS.
3) Ten years? The Planet of the Apes got blow'd up AGAIN by Chuck at the end of Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Cornelius and Zira also claimed to witness its destruction in Escape from the Planet of the Apes. Hmmm. Something tells me I'd just better stop thinking about this stuff.

Episode 2 / The Gladiators: Burke and Virdon see Mark Singer getting the tar beat out of him and decide to lend their fists, but the two rasslers then turn on THEM. Typical. The punching party's broken up by apes on horseback. Alan realizes he's lost that computer doodad from the last episode, which turns out was picked up by the chimp mayor of the nearby village. Galen attempts to recover the small device by befriending this fella who is clearly starved for the company of his own kind. Turns out he lets his humans fight to the death in arena bouts as a means of keeping their bloodlust in check and preserving a peaceful community. Naturally, our heros get sucked into these unseemly death matches.

12:11 p.m. Lunch break! During a 15-minute ape-free window, I stagger into the kitchen and reheat some leftover chicken spaghetti. Mmm. Mmm. Good. I once again top off my soda, before hitting play on the next episode.

Urko and Pete star in the subterranean Odd Couple.
Episode 3 / The Trap: Remember that computer whatsit that was so important for two episodes? Forget it. Earthquakes rumble the ground beneath our heroes feet as they enter the ruins of an ancient city. Presumably, San Francisco. Just as mean ol' General Urko is about to lay the smack down on Pete, the ground opens up and sends them both tumbling into a Bay Area Rapid Transit station. Trapped below the rubble, the two sworn enemies must now work together to survive. This is complicated when Urko discovers a poster that reads "Bring the children to the San Francisco Zoo!" with a picture of human tikes feeding bananas to a caged gorilla. Uh oh.

Episode 4 / The Good Seeds: Our heros wander into a farm where the apes begrudgingly agree to allow them to work while Galen recovers from a hacky sack injury. Ocassionally, a gorilla rides up on a horse and says, "Hey, any of y'all seen any HUMANS around these parts?!" Which is always good for a few moments of screen tension. Pete and Alan really take to the agrarian lifestyle. They teach the apes how to properly plow hillsides to avoid erosion. To always use the largest kernels for corn seed. Even how to build a WINDMILL and use it to irrigate crops. Yet, despite all that, the eldest son is certain these pesky pale faces have cursed his pregnant heifer.

2:08 p.m. Ah, another break. Just long enough to stretch and engage in some gratuitous urination. Dang that grape soda!

Alan plays house with the first babe of the series.
Episode 5 / The Legacy: Our fugitives return to San Francisco -- Oakland, actually -- but seem to have no memory of their visit there in Episode 3. While rooting around through the rubble, they discover a pressurized vault containing a high-tech juke box that conjures a projection of a robed scientist who basically says they're about to "Blow it up! Oh, god! Damn you! Damn you all to hell!" and so they've decided to stockpile all their knowledge in similar vaults throughout the planet. Nice of them, eh? Urko and Zaius show up at this inopportune time, but so does our first love interest. Alan is tossed in the lockup with a beautiful blonde named Arn (Zina Beathure) who does wonders with beet stew if not Alan's seemingly non-existent libido. He tends to be more interested in carving model airplanes and yammering to this punk kid who's actually in cahoots with the gorillas.

Episode 6 / Tomorrow's Tide: Again, the thread is left dangling, and by now it's for good. Ignore that computer disc. Forget about the various vaults of human knowledge. From now on our hero's just hoof it around Apesville sorta like Caine in "Kung Fu." Burke and Virdon rescue an old man lashed to a raft and set adrift at sea. Galen would have helped, but apes hate the water, of course. We learn that humans are being used to spear-fish the shark infested coastal waters, so our heros decide to get involved. In the process they swim a fiery obstacle course, rassle a ferocious rubber shark and being the smartalecs they are -- they instruct their very distant kin in how to make NETS. Oh, and let's not forget brunette fisherbabe Soma (Kathleen Bracken who later appeared in Day of the Animals).

Galen is no slouch with the females either.
Episode 7 / The Surgeon: Ol' McDowall must have been a squeaky wheel by now, because he finally gets to chew up some scenery in this episode. Galen must return to Central City to enlist the aid of a lost love to save the life of Alan who took a gorilla bullet to the gut. The friend is an accomplished surgeon who knows next to nothing about human innards, so Galen and Pete must break into Zaius' library to steal a forbidden anatomy book. Know-it-all astronaut Pete even schools the apes on blood typing and transfusion to ensure Alan survives surgery. It's also a lesson that benefits a blue-eyed gal named Arna (Jamie Smith Jackson) in a surprising way.

Episode 8 / The Deception: Hooded apes who burn down houses, drag humans to death, and meet in secret to trumpet ape superiority? Holy subtly, Batman! Galen must infiltrate this KKK-ish group in the hope of rooting out its leader. Meanwhile, a blind ape chick falls for Pete who believes him to be a fellow chimp -- a unfortunate ruse perpetrated by Galen who actually CRIES when her feelings are revealed. Heavy stuff, mixed with some light comedy as Galen attempts to sell the "Dragoons" on his hatred of damn, dirty humans.

Urko insists upon his horse's success.
Episode 9 / The Horse Race: Apparently when Urko isn't chasing our heros, he's shaking down his own kind by challenging them to horse races and then rigging the outcome in his favor. One such rube is our old friend from Caymak who enlists Alan to be his jockey. It all started when Galen got bit by some sort of super-deadly scorpion and the son of the human they were staying with RODE A HORSE into the village for the antidote. Well, you just can't do that. Galen got better, but the kid's gonna get kilt over it, so bingo, Alan is havin' to bust and race a bronc other folks can't even put a saddle on. To make matters worse, Urko could recognize them at any moment.

6:50 p.m. Phew! Ten minutes to stretch and pop some eats into the microwave. Let's see. Salisbury steak dinners. Ugh! I really should have planned this better. Should go really well with the popcorn and soda already rolling around in my gut.

Episode 10 / The Interrogation: This here's the weirdest of the bunch. A chick chimp named WANDA discovers a book on brainwashing and decides to try it out on poor ol' Pete. This means strapping him to a super-sized roulette wheel and spinning him like mad while apes beat on kettle drums and Wanda grills him with questions. Galen dresses in drag to smuggle Alan into town where they hide out with Galen's folks. At one point, they even huddle in a crawl space under the floor while the Nazis, er, the gorillas search the house. Pete's whirling interrogation eventually devolves into a dream/hallucination that has him curled up with a beautiful babe, only he snaps out of it to be confronted with ol' chimp lips. But, really fellas, who HASN'T that happened to?

Virdon and Burke love their red and blue duds.
Episode 11 / The Tyrant: Time for some political intrigue. An underling of Urko named Aboro shakes down human farmers for grain that he can exchange for gold. It's this gold that he uses to buy himself a higher position of authority. In the process of all that, he offs a couple humans, raising the ire of our heros. Galen (very nearly the Tonto of this series) must impersonate an aide of Zaius to fool Aboro in some way or another. I've been at this 10 hours now, so don't expect me to follow everything. Turns out Aboro is gonna have his old buddy Urko killed, but for some reason, Galen and his astro-pals want to foil the plot. Hang in for the climatic Mexican standoff.

8:40 p.m. It's the home stretch! Ten minutes to catch my breath, then settle into the couch for the remainder of this adventure. I'm actually surprised that the series continues to hold my attention.

Episode 12 / The Cure: Folks start keeling over in the village where Alan has just loved and left a waifish blonde (Sondra Locke), so our three fugitives figure they ought to go back and make sure it isn't their fault. The know-it-alls decide there's been an outbreak of malaria and set to work draining nearby stagnant ponds (Galen's job, of course), tending to the ill and foraging for a certain bark for medicine. Their efforts are hindered by a chimp doctor who insists the disease is spread by naughty horizontal activities between humans. While at a safe distance, Urko repeatedly demands that Zaius allow him to burn the village to the ground. Tensions mount when Galen discovers that Alan told his little girlfriend about their true identities during his "It's not you, it's me" speech.

Galen is pretty used to visiting day by now.
Episode 13 / The Liberator: Here's the semi-lost entry that never aired during the original fall 1974 run. It's also a good bit darker in overall tone. Humans are faced with the unpleasant obligation to offer mining slaves to the apes on a regular basis. When one of the chosen escapes, he returns with Alan and Pete as unwitting replacements (despite the objections of Galen). For his trouble, he's taken to the temple -- by a priest who looks like a human jalapeno -- to be judged by the gods. He croaks on the spot without even being touched. Pete befriends his "Pocahontas" (Jennifer Ashley) who bats her eyelashes at him, but then leaps into the arms of this mean-nasty fella that's been raiding the docile Meadow People for mining "volunteers." And that's not the only thing that stinks around this village.

Episode 14 / Up Above the World So High: Here's the swan song. Zaius and Urko are stunned by reports of a FLYING HUMAN coming from a coastal area and send a chimp named Carsia to investigate (purring Joanna Barnes who once played Jane in a Tarzan picture). Our heros actually saved the eccentric pilot who crashed his hang-glider into a tree, and once again, they start in with their know-it-all meddling about how his flying machine is all wrong. Galen befriends Carsia for reasons that escape my ape-addled brain. Comedy abounds in the wacky exploits of a lighter-than-air chimpanzee. The ending doesn't present much hope for Alan and Pete's return home, but is an excellent tribute to their friendship with Galen.

11:38 p.m. That's it! 13 hours and 8 minutes later ... I've finished and, yes, my keister is in fact numb. My thanks to DVD Talkers adboy151, Geofferson, RMan360, Abob Teff and Geoffrey Kleinman for encouraging me in such insanity.

Notables: No breasts. Nine dead humans. Three dead apes. Seven captures. Four-man brawl. Pre-historic golf club. Rasslin'. Multiple earthquakes. Electrocution. Poison gas. Shark attack. Cursed cow. Gratuitous shower scene. Bitch slapping. Hallucinations. Scorpion attack. Bronc bustin'. Banjo playing monkey. Gratuitous dream sequence. Rock to the brainpan.

Quotables: Pete admits culture shock, "Those were apes! Gorillas! What kind of planet IS this?!" Galen ponders his world view, "Maybe they were right, Zaius. Maybe the world would be better if no creature controlled another. If all worked together as equals." A concerned farmer doesn't trust humans, "They've been known to kill cows just for the meat!" Another ape claims, "All humans look alike." Series jokester Pete Burke quips, "Interesting decor. Done in early American disaster." Chimp doctor reasons, "At their best [humans] are useful animals. At their worst, they're carriers of hatred and destruction."

Audio/Video: Each episode is presented in their original fullframe with minor white dust spots or scratches throughout. Otherwise the picture quality is surprisingly crisp and colorful for this nearly 30-year-old series. Utilitarian mono track maintains consistent levels throughout.

Extras: Excellent printed booklet features thumbnail synopses for each show along with original airdate and credits. This information really should have also been incorporated into the humdrum static menus (without audio). Another missed opportunity is the lack of commentaries or other extras directly related to the TV series. Instead, the set is anemically capped by a promo for the POTA: Evolution boxed set and a theatrical trailer for the Tim Burton remake.

Final thought: This obscure series will be a welcome discovery for many POTA fanatics, as Galen the kindly chimp and his astro-pals challenge social conventions while also entertaining through their misadventures as fugitives. Let's hope the cartoon series isn't far behind! Recommended.

Send your comments to [email protected]

G. Noel Gross is a Dallas graphic designer and avowed Drive-In Mutant who specializes in scribbling B-movie reviews. Noel is inspired by Joe Bob Briggs and his gospel of blood, breasts and beasts.

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