Sunday, March 31, 2013

Time of the Apes (1974) - MST3K Review

It’s a happy morning for two school children Johnny (Masaaki Kaji) and Caroline (Hiroko Saito). They are going to visit their uncle’s top-secret laboratory and learn about his project dealing with cryogenics. Assistant Catherine (Reiko Tokunaga) shows the kids around the laboratory, finally stopping in the room with the freezing pods. Wouldn’t you know it, the local volcano erupts and sends the three into the pods as the only safe place. Quicker than you can say Popsicle, they are frozen and awake to find themselves in a world where Apes have evolved into men!

They escape a laboratory and make for Green Mountain, where they encounter a lone human named Godo (Tetsuya Ushio) who decides to help them. Along the way they meet the helpful ape child Pepe (Kazue Takita) and attempt to escape the evil Chief Gebar (Baku Hatakeyama). What follows are chases, escapes, deception, double crosses, a flying saucer and a startling revelation that could change everything. Will Johnny, Caroline and Catherine ever escape from the Time of the Apes?

Movie Review:
Chief Gebar pretends he's General Patton.
When it comes to science fiction movie milestones there are always a certain set of films that get mentioned. One of those is Planet of the Apes, the film that pitted Charleton Heston against gun toting ape-men. Of course there was a whole lot more going on in it, including some social commentary that helped turn the first film into a classic (the sequels… not so much). It’s not hard to imagine that this film inspired moviemakers across the globe. This is one of those “inspired” films.

Well let’s back up a bit. This is another one of those “movies” that is really a severely edited version of a television show. The series was called Saru no Gundan translated to “Army of the Apes” which actually fits the film pretty well. This series ran for 26 episodes each about 30 minutes long. That means a story that ran for 780 minutes is condensed down to roughly 97 minutes of a “movie”. The end result just barely manages to make any sense at all.

Yes, Time of the Apes was brought to us by Sandy Frank - the same gentleman who brought us Fugitive Alien and the Gamera translations. On the one hand you want to thank him for exposing us to some classic Japanese films and series. On the other, you wonder if the hack job on these was worth it. With so much editing, chopping and jumping around, the movie plays like a fever dream of endless chases and escapes. You loose track of why the characters are doing anything, and just sit there thinking, “Well it’s all going to make sense in the end, right?” And in some warped surreal way it does all make sense. But it requires the logical mind to shut down and bask in the ape fantasy that abounds in front of you.

Caroline, Johnny and Catherine awake to an ape filled time.
Visually Time of the Apes looks like what you’d expect from a television series from the 1970s with a limited budget attempting to mimic Planet of the Apes. Most of the ape-men end up looking pretty hilarious in masks that don’t flex of bend correctly for speaking purposes. There’s lots of ridiculous pantomime combined with some hilarious outfits. Some of the apes are dressed like Japanese humans of the 1970s. So Pepe is running around in jeans and sneakers, while Chief Gebar appears to be modeled after General Patton. Then there are the apes wearing elaborate fop outfits, or dressed like Colonel Sanders.

The style of the film is also typical of the period. You get lots of crazy editing, rapid-fire zooms and frantic action scenes. It keeps things exciting, sure, but it also adds to the confusion. If anything, the film seems a bit ahead of its time with the speed at which it moves. It’s hard to tell if this was part of the production in 1974 or the editing job in 1987.

Mostly the dubbing is pretty god awful, but in truth you only really notice it when the humans are speaking. The ape masks are so poor that no matter what language they are speaking, the dubbing would look off. Those mouths barely move. The dub voice actors are mostly of the over the top variety, with Chief Gebar chewing the audio scenery. The gasping and moaning sounds as perverse as it normally does, but that is expected in dubs from this era.

Pepe: ape-boy, ape-girl or owl?
I did like the zesty peppy music used in Time of the Apes. There’s some cool 70s guitar work in there as well as some very prog sounding synths. Although some of it was tracked very poorly. Peppy music is synched to dramatic or tense scenes and vice versa. This happened in Fugitive Alien as well, so I suspect that this may have been a side effect of the poor dubbing job. But then again, who knows for sure.

Also difficult to judge is the acting in general. You can tell this is a show aimed at kids, so things are played pretty broadly. The pantomiming apes and overly expressive children can be ridiculous at times. And combined with the poor dubbing it is just a hilarious mess.

Even without Mystery Science Theater on board, this movie would be a blast to watch. It moves quickly, is filled to bursting with odd visuals and has plenty of action, running and hiding to keep you interested. As long as you don’t try to figure out what is going on, a viewer has a prime riffing feature to enjoy. But why not let Joel and the bots to the heavy lifting here.

Episode Review:  
Godo attempts to protect the only other humans
Season three of the series was known for it’s Japanese films and the great riffing they got. Time of the Apes is really one of my favorites. I think I enjoy Fugitive Alien a tiny bit more, but only because the story makes a tiny bit more sense.

This movie was actually riffed on twice by the crew. The first time was during the KTMA run of the show. Everyone remembered how much fun they had with the show, so they asked Comedy Central to get the rights. They tackled this one fairly early in the season and really seemed to be firing on all cylinders.

Everything is game for them, from the hilarious dubbing and editing, to the costumes and odd plot contrivances. Katherine, Johnny and Caroline do a lot of ducking into hallways and hiding and alcoves. The ape troops walk right by and never see them. After a while Joel wonders “Doesn’t anyone have peripheral vision in this movies?”

Chief Gebar wants you to make his day.
They also work “monkey” and “ape” into many of the riffs turning this into a very punny episode. On a quick zoom up to Godo as he aims a gun at the ape troops Tom says, “Steven Segal in ‘Shock the Monkey’”.  Or when a guard is knocked senseless by Godo in a later scene Crow quips, “It’s bed time for Bonzo.” There’s also an entire bevy of poop flinging jokes. One of my favorites is as the ape president drives up to his headquarters; there are a whole mess of soldiers out front that snap to attention. Tom wonders if they will offer a 21-crap salute.

Early in Time of the Apes when Johnny’s mother worries about the minor tremor might lead to a bigger quake, she whines and asks Johnny not to go to the lab with Caroline. Johnny turns to his mother and is dubbed in a perky peppy way saying, “I don’t care!” This inspires endless running jokes offering Johnny plenty of things he should care about, or having him answer “I don’t care” to just about anything. I love when Johnny triggers a trap on Green Mountain and is about to be skewered. Joel says, “I bet you care now!”

Really that’s only the tip of the iceberg. This episode is packed with classic riffing. One of my favorite sequences is a single minute of zooms, gasps, moans and more zooms. The boys riff this perfectly. I wasn’t able to find just that scene, but watch the first minute of the clip below to see that sequence. It’s easily one of the highlights of season 3.

Crow is supposed be Spencer Tracy as Clarence Darrow.
The host segments are pretty fun. Things start off with Joel and the bots attempting to play some baseball. But it all goes wrong when they break and window and create a hull breach. For the invention exchange, Joel creates the cellulite phone. This pink phone expands as you order take out to remind you to stay on your diet. The mad scientists create the Miracle Grow Baby Formula that will grow your baby faster in less time. It works too well. At the first break, Joel and bots present a short film about why Johnny doesn’t care. It’s gets pretty dark actually. The next break goes silly, as Joel and the bots attempt to recreate the Scopes Monkey Trial from Inherit the Wind. A standee of Judge Wapner is a special guest. The fashions of the apes inspire Crow to present spring fashions based on the film. It’s pretty hilarious stuff. When the film ends, Joel and the bots sing a song based on the music of the end credits. It describes about how “Sandy Frank is the source of our pain”.

Time of the Apes is one of the best episodes of Season three and well worth seeking out. The fast paced movie, combined with some excellent riffing and fun host segments make this one of my favorite episodes from the Comedy Central years.

I give it five ape filled zooms out of five.

This episode is available on Mystery Science Theater 3000: Volume XXII. 


  1. Sandy Frank, Sandy Frank, He's the source of all our pain!

    1. And now I've got that stuck in my head! I've adapted that song over the years to add other names that add to my pain... from movie directors to my cat. :)