Time Out Threequel

Hello, friends in time, and welcome to a regular feature on Cinema 52 where I put my weekly viewing of Back to the Future on hold and watch another movie featuring time travel for comparison.

In this special Threequel Weekquel Edition, I’ll be looking at the bizarre tendency of film franchises to feature time travel in the third installment, despite the original containing nothing of the sort. Is it a logical next step for each series, or just an attention-grabbing gimmick to draw audiences back in? Do the filmmakers even understand their own rules? And does introducing time travel help the franchise or hurt it?

Warning: As each film this week is part of a series, it’s going to get extra spoiler-y. You’ve been warned.



PREVIOUSLY ON PLANET OF THE APES: Some astronauts crash-landed on a planet full of talking apes; one of them found out it’s actually Earth in the future; another astronaut came looking for him and found a weird nuclear mutant church underground; the first astronaut activated a bomb and blew the entire goddamn planet up.

WHAT DOES TIME TRAVEL BRING TO THE TABLE? Well, for starters, it makes a third movie even remotely plausible on account of that whole “everybody dies” thing.

Escape from the Corner You’ve Written Yourself Into.

Thankfully, it serves a greater purpose than undoing Heston’s alleged attempt to avoid being in any sequels. When Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter), Cornelius (Roddy McDowall), and their spaceship-fixin’ pal Dr. Milo (Sal Mineo) land on 1970s Earth, we essentially get the same scenario as the first film, but from the other side. Can apes truly be assimilated into modern human societ– monkey fashion show!

This? For two hours?

No, it isn’t all apes learning to drive a car or order a pizza, but the franchise did need to lighten its tone after the heavy-handed bullshit of the second film, and ’70s monkey montages aren’t a bad start. The story gets darker as humans begin to splutter about evolution and science and blah-blah-blah, forcing the apes to formulate an escape plan. Honestly, it would be fine as a standalone movie, which may be key to a good time-travel-ized sequel.

That and monkeys in ridiculous bathrobes.

DO THE FILMMAKERS EVEN UNDERSTAND TIME TRAVEL? Well, there’s a scene where some expert (Eric Braeden) explains the idea of branching alternate universes as a painter painting a painting of himself painting a painting of himself painting himself painting a painting of himself painting a painting.

Thanks for simplifying time travel with this thoroughly uncomplicated metaphor.

They saved themselves the trouble of making the monkeys explain quantum mechanics by having the whole thing be a complete fluke; they were just trying to escape (from the planet of the apes) in Heston’s repaired spaceship and it was hit by the shockwave of the nuclear explosion. This opened a “tornado in the sky.” And that’s about as technical as it gets.

Stop thinking about space-time and enjoy the drunk monkeys.

But wait, wouldn’t their traveling back in time mean that humanity is aware of their chimped-out future and can change it? Well, it ends on a cliffhanger that implies the timeline may be immutable and their journey to the past was always a part of history. I’ve been told that the next film definitively answers this question, but eh, I don’t think I care to keep going. Yes, I do. No, I don’t.

Yes, I will.

DOES TIME TRAVEL DESTROY THE ENTIRE UNIVERSE? Well, since their trip was an accident, this would seem to rule out the possibility of all sorts of goofy time machines of both the ape and human variety mucking up the franchise. Still, if we know that time travel is possible and requires a nuclear blast, what’s to stop anyone in the Apesverse from building a working time machine off of that knowledge?

“Can we hurry this along? I’ve got a flux capacitor to bang out here.”

Wait a minute, even if it isn’t that easy to go back in time, they still know how to go forward. You know, the confusing lightspeed cryogenic something-or-other that dropped off Heston the first time? That means they could send someone ahead with the information that Zira and friends have brought back from the future… and possibly prevent the destruction of the Earth. Immutable or not, that’s something you’ve got to test.

Maybe try a chimp chrononaut first.

Also, seriously? Read a book on evolution, Apes writers. You’re kind of lowballing it with just 2000 years, and this time travel stuff is only screwing it up more. Don’t take the evolution out of the poignant commentary on evolution.

In a way, this film has the strongest story in the franchise so far because it follows its characters from beginning to end. Even the first movie sort of stops caring about Taylor’s motivation once the monkeys start fighting about their origins (and the second movie is made of stupid). Escape starts off light and fun and ends surprisingly dark and serious, and that’s exactly what it needed to be to wash off the stink of Beneath. Also, Jerry Goldsmith’s ’70s interpretation of his own original Apes score is nothing short of funktastic. Sure, the time travel is a forced face-palmer of a coincidence, but if you can get past that, the movie’s a good time.

Threequel Weekquel Continues! Army of Darkness (1992), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993), Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Cinderella III: A Twist in Time (2007), Men in Black 3 (2012)

Want more time travel? Head on over to the Time Out archive.