25TH ANNIVERSARY: WILLIAM SHATNER’S STAR TREK V: THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989)

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William Shatner’s Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) has been called the “Plan 9 of Star Trek.” There is no denying that it is awful, but it is more like the misfit Yukon Cornelius of Trekdom. It is not quite as bad as Star Trek III: The Search For Spock (1984), and to say that Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986) is ludicrously overrated is a given, especially when the best performances are by two anonymous trash collectors. William Shatner, perhaps feeling envious of Leonard Nimoy’s directorial “successes,” insisted on his turn at bat. Rather than keeping the franchise in the experienced, imaginative hands of director Nichols Meyer ,who had written and directed Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn (1982), Paramount and producer Harve Bennett foolishly handed the asylum keys to lunatic stars who had no experience in big budgeted space oaters apart from acting.
STAR TREK V- THE FINAL FRONTIER (1989) William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy

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A.I. ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (2001)

A.I. (2001 Spielberg)A.I. (2001 Spielberg) William Hurt

Once or twice a decade comes a film that polarizes audiences, particularly of the American variety. This is not surprising given that few Westerners, spoon-fed on undemanding aesthetics, even know how to watch film. Recent examples of divisive cinema include Noah and Birdman from 2014. Both appeared to be genre films of sorts.

A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001 Spielberg) Theatrical posterA.I. (2001 Spielberg) Frances O' Connor and Haley Joel Osment

The audiences going to Noah jumped off the church bus, expecting to see the cinematic equivalent of a Velcro bible lesson with rosy-cheeked prophet loading friendly snakes into his wooden yacht, capped off by a “Love American Style” rainbow. Instead, they were pounded by Aronofsky’s brass knuckles of mythological and theological diversity, with a Creator who actually cared about his planet. The result was widespread provocation.

A.I. (2001 Spielberg) poster

Birdman was a sort of belated, near perfect follow-up to Batman Returns (1992) (never mind that it was a bird instead of a flying rodent). Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne was off-kilter as his alter ego, and the hyperkinetic actor was tailor made for this iconic role, revealing slivers of a manic-depressive personality as he played ringmaster in a freak show carnival. Birdman takes that development further, exposing the actor behind the actor behind the suit. Audiences, desiring more blockbuster mayhem, were treated to something far more idiosyncratic and original. By and large, they responded like a hostile bull charging to a flag of artsy-fartsy red.

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SIMIAN WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION: DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014)

Boulle Monkey PlanetIn the 1960s Arthur P. Jacobs purchased screen rights to Pierre Boulle’s novel “Monkey Planet,” for Twentieth Century Fox. It became Jacobs’ dream project, facing an uphill battle with skeptical executives. Not helping the producer’s cause was Boulle’s public statement, calling “Monkey Planet” his worst novel.*

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Rod Serling and Michael Wilson co-wrote the screen adaptation for Planet of The Apes (1968), which is far more Twilight Zone in construction than Boulle. Jacobs wisely cast Charlton Heston in the lead role. Heston, who loved the script, was helpful in influencing studio heads to green light and assign director Franklin J. Shaffner, who the actor had worked with in the underrated The War Lord (1965).

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Studio misgivings were laid aside when Planet of the Apes (1968) proved to be a monstrous success. Before Star Wars, Batman, etc, Planet of the Apes was the original blockbuster franchise, spawning four sequels, a short-lived television series, an animated series, and a comic book. The original film still retains its classic pop status, despite revisionist opinions, usually by those who have not seen it and dismiss it as a cheesy byproduct of the sixties and seventies. Actually, it is science fiction at its most preferable: the cinematic equivalent of Cracker Jacks with its prize being smart dumb fun amidst caramel popcorn and salty peanuts. Who, in all honesty, would find  Kubrick’s academic  psychedelia 2001: A Space Odyssey, made the same year, as fun an experience as American icon Heston being put through Sterling’s pulp karma in the form of gorillas on horseback? Heston’s Col. Taylor, disdainful of mankind, is replete with character flaws, yet we root for him as he is catapulted through a physical and emotional nightmare, in which he is forced to do a philosophical about-face, only to learn he was right all along. Heston’s physicality  perfectly responds to Sterling’s blunt ironies. It is the hippest performance of the actor’s career and one can understand his hesitancy regarding the sequel; Beneath The Planet Of The Apes (1970). Continue reading

BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES (1970)

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It is all there in Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970): from Alpha to Omega, from Moses to St. John of Patmos all the way through to Martin Luther’s antisemitism.

We last saw Taylor (Charlton Heston) in the original Planet of the Apes crying like a baby, making mud pies before the post-apocalyptic ruins of the Statue of Liberty with dumb (i.e. mute) brunette Nova (Linda Harris, in a bad performance) by his side. Insert invisible wormhole to swallow Taylor up whole. Nova now waits for new knight-in-a-loincloth Brent (James Franciscus) to rescue her.

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Yes, American astronaut Brent has a loincloth too, and cuts a leaner, more-sylphlike figure than Heston (of whom he gives a second-rate impersonation. Franciscus fared better in his best performance as blind detective Mike Longstreet in the TV series “Longstreet,” which is as lamentably forgotten as Franciscus himself). Nova and Brent go cave exploring and what do they find? An elongated and pointless rehash of the first movie.

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Cornelius (David Watson, briefly replacing Roddy McDowell as the chief chimp) and Zera (Kim Hunter) do much hand wringing. Meanwhile, there is a gorilla named Ursus (James Gregory) who is prone to booming his own second-generation, agenda-laden scripture. (“The only good Jew is a dead Jew” has far more expansive potential when mouthed as “the only good human is a dead human.”) A simian neo-Fascist yahoo, Ursus takes his cavalry into the Forbidden Zone, hot on the trail of Brent and Nova. A prophetic Jonestown awaits.

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Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans) laments: “Someone has outwitted the intelligence of the gorillas.”

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“The only thing that counts in the end is power! Naked merciless force!” Hallelujah, General.

The hippie apes protest the impending war (i.e. Vietnam).

Meanwhile, our Adam and Eve protagonists (make that Second Adam with Eve) have been bamboozled into joining a charismatic, apocalyptic religious cult, a la Jim Jones.

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Former King Tut Victor Buono (with Moses’ staff and sacred scroll in hand) starts slaying in the spirit and whips up a pillar of fire, apparently delivered personally by a cobalt-cased deity, to stall the Mighty 7th. Ursus may just be another replacement for the Pharaoh, but with Gregory’s evangelical charisma practically melting the ape makeup, the stoic Randolph Scott could never have competed.

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“If you are caught by the gorillas, you must remember one thing.”

“What’s that?

“Never to speak!”

“What the hell would I have to say to a gorilla?”

“That thing out there, an atomic bomb… is your god?” “Get outta my head!”

“Mr. Taylor, Mr. Brent, we are a peaceful people. We don’t kill our enemies. We get our enemies to kill each other.”

Insert nihilistic finale.

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