Time of the Apes was cobbled together from bits and pieces of a 1974 Japanese TV series from Ultraman creators Tsuburaya Productions — SF Drama: Saru no Gundan (SFドラマ 猿の軍団, "Army of Apes: A Sci-Fi Drama). The series ran for 26 episodes and did not meet with much enthusiasm, not even from its "home crowd" in Japan. In 1987, enter Sandy Frank: buyer, producer, and importer of all manner of Japanese crap cinema. Sandy purchases the 26 episodes, gets rid of all but 4 or 5 of them, and splices bits and pieces from these remaining episodes into a film. Kind of like a Sandy Frankenstein monster pieced together from garage sale leftovers. This film capitalized on the Planet of the Apes series. Though obviously (sometimes painfully) Japanese, the dubbed version gives the characters English names.
The children Johnny (Jiro Sakaki in the Japanese version) (Masaaki Kaji) and Caroline (Yurika in the Japanese version) (Hiroko Saito) travel to visit the laboratory of Johnny's uncle. There they are given a tour by young female lab assistant Catherine (Kazuko Izumi in the Japanese version) (Reiko Tokunaga) and get to see the lab's cryogenic chambers. Unfortunately a severe earthquake strikes. Catherine, Caroline, and Johnny take shelter in the nearest available cryogenic chambers, which then activate when a rock falls on the on switch. They awaken in another time populated by a militaristic ape society, the outward appearance of which is similar to 20th-century Earth; the apes drive 20th-century automobiles such as Buicks and Jeeps, carry M1 carbines, and wear an odd mix of Civil-War-era and 1970s clothing.
The plot then turns into a cat-and-mouse game. After escaping the apes, the protagonists are pursued into a booby-trap laden jungle area known as "Green Mountain." A human in hiding, Godo (one of the few characters to keep his name intact in the English cut) (Tetsuya Ushio), helps them escape from the apes. A hermit, Godo knows little about his own background or other humans in the world, but is well-known to the apes as a fearsome warrior.
As they struggle against the apes in a series of never-ending chases, a flying saucer appears at key moments without explanation. At one point, the beings in the saucer appear to communicate telepathically with Catherine, who reveals that the saucer belongs to another society known as the UCOMM, a group at odds with the ape society. UCOMM also seems to hold the key to their efforts to get back to the 20th Century.
Time of the Apes has examples of:
- Aerith and Bob: We get Catherine, Johnny, and Caroline (changed for the dub) alongside Godo, Pepe, and Gebar (actually the original names).
- Air-Vent Passageway: The air vent in the movie is only big enough for a small kid.
- The Alleged Car: The Commander's car, which looks a little beat up.
- Ambiguous Gender: Pepe; her gender wasn't even revealed until the last third of the movie.
- Annoying Younger Sibling: Johnny, though he's not actually related to the other two.
- Archenemy: Gebar, who opposes Godo under the belief that Godo killed his wife and son.
- He also floors Godo with a single hit.
- Bad Boss: Gebar, who whips his subordinates for the slightest mistake. At one point he actually frags a subordinate who tried to flee in fear of Godo.
- Bait-and-Switch Credits: The opening credits have stock pictures that have little to do with the movie.
- Big Eater: Johnny, who tends to take extra helpings for meals.
- Catchphrase: Averted with Johnny's "I don't care!" line. He only says it once, but in such an obnoxiously condescending way that the guys at Mystery Science Theater 3000 turned it into a Running Gag. People introduced to this film via MST3K end up thinking Johnny says this far more often than he actually does.
- Cheap Costume: The ape masks, complete with mouths that don't even move.
- Compilation Movie: This was butchered from a 26-episode TV series to make a TV movie. It's bound to be rather confusing at many points.
- Cynicism Catalyst: Gebar's wife and son; he believes that Godo was responsible for killing them, though their deaths were actually an accident. As it turns out, Gebar himself was partly responsible.
- Determinator: No matter what, Gebar will not stop until he has avenged his wife and son against Godo.
- Dressing as the Enemy: Godo using a Paper-Thin Disguise.
- Forbidden Zone: Green Mountain, where the apes are afraid to go for some reason.
- Hong Kong Dub: It's easier to swallow the dubbing for the apes, since the lips don't really move much.
- Inherently Funny Words: Honestly, "Gebar".note
- Inspector Javert: Gebar, as a security chief for the ape regime, has a single-minded purpose in chasing Godo, even at the cost of his actual job. It gets worse when it turns out Godo didn't kill his wife and son. He was helping them. In fact, Gebar shooting at Godo is what got one of them killed.
- It's All My Fault: Gebar realizes this in the harshest way possible.
- Lightning Lash: Gebar's electrical whip, used to discipline his subordinates for the slightest transgression.
- The Load: Johnny. As if to unintentionally lampshade it, the dub has him respond to a warning about heading into danger with this line:Johnny: "I don't care!"
- Mind Screw: When you chop up a 26-episode TV show into an hour and a half long movie, you're bound to make things way more confusing than they need to be. Say what you will about the original show, at least it made a bare minimum of sense.
- Mr. Fanservice: Godo is quite pretty, especially after he shaves.
- The Mutiny: There's apparently a rebellion against the Commander by a group of his officers, though given how much of the series' footage was cut during the conversion to a film, we only first hear about this when the Commander is showing up to talk the rebellion's leaders into standing down.
- Mysterious Watcher: The flying saucer.
- No New Fashions in the Future: If you think 70s-style clothes look bad on people, just imagine those clothes on apes with crappy masks.
- No Peripheral Vision: Various apes are unable to notice the humans, even in conspicuous locations like through the slates of a wooden bridge.
- Older Sidekick: Godo, who is noticeably older than Johnny and Caroline.
- Only Known by Their Nickname: The Commander.
- Plot Hole: Likely due to important scenes (or even entire episodes), being cut out, there are quite a few. At one point the gang is running from some apes and encounter a bridge. Instead of just running across we cut to the apes walking across the bridge while the humans are now hanging from their fingertips and slowly making their way across.
- Plucky Comic Relief: Johnny, for his witticisms and goofy nature. Almost all of the notable lines come from his dub.
- Rank Scaleswith Asskicking: The Commander backs up his position with physical prowess – he effortlessly floors Godo when the latter attacks him.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: The Commander, who is actually merciful towards the humans, and tries to see to their comfort. He even tries to appeal to them peaceably in the end.
- Beware the Nice Ones: He also threatens to kill the heroes if they step out of line.
- Shown Their Work: The gorillas are quite gentle while the chimpanzees are vicious killers.
- Team Mom: Kazuko/Catherine, who takes responsibility for the children after they are stranded in the time of the apes.
- Techno Babble: The explanation about the time travel, which sounds like Dr. Lee is pulling out of his ass.
- Too Dumb to Live: Johnny, Johnny, Johnny... You're not 6 feet tall and made of muscle...Johnny: With this knife, I'm not scared of anyone!
- He also threatens to kill the apes even though he's tied up and they have big guns.
- Villainous Breakdown: After he fails to kill Godo again, Gebar simply resorts to begging the UFO to just let him kill the human. Then it reveals that he killed his own child, and he is reduced to a sobbing mess.
- Zoom: Done to an absurd degree in numerous scenes.