Two children take a trip to a science laboratory where experimentation on the cryogenic freezing of apes is taking place. An earthquake forces the two children and their caretaker to seek shelter in some of the freeze pods, which accidentally turn on and freeze them, sending them hundreds of years into the future. When they are awoken, they find themselves in a land ruled by humanoid apes and have to fend for their very lives. Their only hope for survival rests in the help of a renegade human in the ape country, where humans are marked for death.
The previous MST3K film, Stranded in Space, shows us the pitfalls of using a television pilot as a feature film. This episode, Time of the Apes, shows us a different yet similar pitfall: using an entire television series as a movie. Originally a 26 episode television series called Saru no Gundan, the episodes (especially the first and last ones) were edited together to give us this weird and confusing film.
Naturally, editing a full 26 episodes into a movie can go spectacularly wrong if not handled correctly, and the process here, handled by Sandy Frank, was most certainly not handled correctly. The film is a mess from start to finish, jumping from scene to scene with little coherency, leaving multiple plot details unexplained and introducing new ones unnecessarily. The film isn't edited in such a way that it's impossible to tell what's going on, but the way scenes move at such a rapid pace make the movie's TV roots abundantly clear.
The movie really suffers because of this in the middle, where all the explanation and back story of 20+ episodes is gutted for a few action scenes and some abrupt setups. It's eventually revealed at the end that six months pass during the time that the protagonists are in the ape country, but there is nothing in the film to give that sense of scale. Also, there are aliens. At least that's what it looks like, because they appear and disappear too abruptly to make any meaningful contribution to the film until near the end.
Okay, so editing a lengthy TV series into a feature film is not a good idea. Does anything else drag the film down further? Well, the English dubbing, for one thing. Typical of Sandy Frank dubs, the voice acting is over the top and shrill, especially the female and children characters, the latter of which there are too many. Though not as vile as Kenny from Gamera, the kids in Time of the Apes are predictably annoying, the boy for sound like a whiny little sod and the girl for one of the most ear-splitting voices imaginable. There's even a child ape, who thankfully isn't as aggravating as the human children but still manages to be irritating.
The plot itself is almost a direct ripoff of the film Planet of the Apes, a fact that is noticeable despite the haphazardly edited plot. Certainly there are changes here and there, but no one is fooled concerning this story's source. On the plus side, the costumes of the apes are pretty good, even though some of them weren't done as carefully as the others. And some of the effects, while goofy, are at least well done for their time (more or less).
Overall, the production values aren't really the problem with this movie - the original series may even be pretty good, for all I know. The series-to-movie conversion and English dubbing, however, turn it into something that isn't worth looking into except for curiosity's sake. Sandy Frank deserved all the scorn he got for this episode, as well as the dreck of his found in previous episodes.
The last Japanese movie that Joel and the bots did, Gamera vs Barugon, was a disappointment, perhaps because they riffed two Gamera movies nearly back-to-back. It seems the decision to go with a a Japanese film without the giant turtle was a smart move, as they were in top form in this episode. The first third of the film especially had some strong riffs, and while it sort of lagged in the middle, the ending finished strong as well. Certainly one of the best episodes of season three to date.
"I don't care." Of course they chose this for the stinger, the scene where, after a small tremor, little Johnny rebuffs his mother's concern with these immortal words. The poorly timed dialogue and the badly dubbed voices all converge into an absolutely perfect stinger, one of the best in the series so far.