Friday, June 22, 2018

Time of the Apes

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Time of the Apes
Kiyo Sumi Fukazawa, Atsuo Okunaka

Catherine (Reiko Tokunaga), a lab assistant at a cryogenics lab is forced to show two awful brats,  Johnny (Masaaki Kaji) and Caroline (Hiroko Saito) around the facility. An ill-timed earthquake freezes them in a chamber they are visiting and they awaken to find themselves in a time where humans are (mostly) extinct and apes in goofy helmets and southern gentleman suits rule the world. Only with the help of the human rebel Godo (Tetsuya Ushio) do they have any hope of survival.

It is a minor miracle that Time of the Apes makes any sense at all given that it is cobbled together from 26(!) episodes of a Japanese television series called Saru no Gundan and then poorly dubbed by the notorious Sandy Frank. The end result is a narrative that never feels like it is going anywhere until it unloads a torrent of background information during the climax. Sure there is plenty of action but it starts to become numbing after a while. I am sure there is an element of satire to be found here as well, but the culture gap of a Japanese production coupled with the lunkheaded and often bizarre dubbing from makes much of it imperceptible.

"But seriously what is up with the shoulder mounted pen holder?"
Time of the Apes looks pretty awful. Everything is primarily brown and orange, more than a nod to the original Planet of the Apes (1968) sets, but now much more ugly and washed out thanks to a lone VHS release. The ape costumes aren’t terrible, but they limit the actor’s abilities to emote. Once again I think the dubbing does the story a disservice as almost every ape in the film just seems irritated about the whole series of events even when we are supposed to be sympathizing with them. Honestly, with Johnny involved, I can’t blame them. What makes these apes even more strange than their Planet counterparts is the fact they are still wearing human clothing, drive around in 1970s era cars and generally look at and act just like people. It is both amusingly off-kilter and lazy.

Our human characters range from dull to annoying. Johnny, in particular, is headstrong, carefree and I want to see him end up on the wrong side of an angry gorilla. Godo is the kind of suave turtleneck wearing action hero that seemed to infest a lot of Japanese genre films in the 1970s. Catherine and Caroline, like many female characters in this era, are relegated to the background. The humans also pick up a weird-faced ape kid named Pepe, who doesn’t do much more than run around in a striped shirt.

"Tell me about the rabbits, Godo."
Time of the Apes manages to toss in a flying saucer, a supercomputer, and some psychedelic time travel. If you have only ever seen the movie as an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, there is an extended climax where Godo and crew face down EUCOM, the evil computer that ushered in the end of humanity. I’m not saying it is worth watching, but it does continually dump exposition that clears up at least some of the story.

Time of the Apes is not only an extended rip-off of Planet of the Apes, it is also a very weird rip-off of Planet of the Apes, from the costumes, the dubbing, and a time-travel twist so dumb I don’t even know what to say about it. Time of the Apes is a colossal mess… which has done nothing to stop me from watching it several times.

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