Hello Interwebs! This week I break down the complete story of Planet of the Beavers Part 2: Tower of the Beavers. Read on to uncover behind-the-scenes stories from the film’s production. Also enjoy my film-making/ narrative analysis to determine what exactly TPM’s creative intentions were for this off-beat comedy film.
This is, of course, part 2 of my PoB analysis series. If you haven’t already (or if you want a refresher) read Part 1 here.
***Spoilers ahead for Tower of the Beavers and some First Act Spoilers for Planet of the Beavers Reloaded.***
Tower of the Beavers Behind-the-scenes Stories
The first Planet of the Beavers film was never intended to be more than a class project. But we actually found modest success with it on YouTube (by our standards at least). People seemed to like this weird story. So Justin and I decided to make another installment.
I’ve gotta admit something before going any further: TPM has long since dismissed Tower of the Beavers as the weakest installment of the PoB series (by far), and we’re somewhat embarrassed by it. The story had its moments but largely faltered for reasons I’ll get into momentarily. Our team still had fun working on PoB 2 though. This was the project which solidified TPM’s group dynamic and pushed our skills further. I have fond memories.
That said: Justin, Matteo, and I had a whole host of problems producing this film… The issues started right from pre-production. While PoB 1 was largely improvised off of a loose script, Justin and I agreed that PoB 2’s story ought to be tighter. We were aiming to make a franchise, afterall. The plot had to be more cohesive from Part 2 onward. Justin and I also thought (perhaps foolishly in hindsight) that PoB 2 required more backstory for our world.
The first film was stand-alone, so it could afford to be weird with almost no context. The sequel, however, was a good opportunity to explain away some unanswered questions: how Alex and Mortimer survived the apocalypse, how certain humans became Manimals, etc. The main problem wasn’t that we wanted backstory: it’s that we decided to make PoB 2 the backstory episode at the expense of moving the “current” story forward.
I suppose PoB 2 was always destined for mediocrity. It was never more to the crew than a lay-over installment to provide a groundwork for more films. And that way of thinking is evident in the final product. Justin and I knew before we even started on PoB 2 that Planet of the Beavers Reloaded (PoB 3) would be the film which truly expanded the PoB plot! Basically, we pulled an Iron Man 2 (a film famous for being an MCU launching-pad rather than a great Iron Man sequel). But Kevin Feige we are not…
Tower of the Beavers ultimately contained too many unnecessary flashbacks, which seriously dragged down the momentum of the movie. It’s safe to assume we hadn’t yet come up with the PoB series’ mantra: “Always forward; never back”… Maybe the worst part of these flashbacks is that PoB 3 rendered half of them non-canon. Most notably: we completely retooled Mortimer’s backstory after PoB 2, and the changes to continuity easily stand out upon re-watch of the films. That whole scene in the drainage tube now feels redundant and pointless.
All these narrative problems were compounded by the fact that Justin I wrote two distinct scripts for the movie. We’d worked out the rough story as a team in advance but chose not to collaborate on the writing. Once finished our first drafts, we merged the screenplays. The result was this weird mish-mash of ideas and tones which I’m not convinced worked together. Suffice it to say we had different visions for how PoB 2 was gonna play out.
By now you may be asking yourself, “Why was Joe so involved in the creative process anyway? Wasn’t PoB Justin’s movie that Joe only helped make?” Fair questions. Quick answer: by this time in high school, Justin and I had become regular collaborators. Not only did we help each other out with individual projects, but we started creating original works together as well. So, while Planet of the Beavers was Justin’s creation, I had more creative input for the sequel (though Justin still had the final say).
So, back to our production issues now… We should have known PoB 2 was going to be a mess from day 1. Matteo couldn’t make it to our shoot, so Justin and I were forced do the very first scene without him. If you’re wondering: that’s why Matteo isn’t in the initial shot where Mortimer and Manimal #2 decide to “follow the road”. Our schedules were tight even back then, and we couldn’t afford to miss a day of filming simply because one of our main actors couldn’t attend. TPM is better equipped to handle problems like that now, but not so much back then.
Fact of the matter is we didn’t plan our old films well enough. Nowadays we have detailed storyboards and I coordinate scenes based around our actors’ schedules, but back then we just took a camera and shot whatever we felt like whenever we could. Heck– this movie was made before TPM cared much about continuity. I feel like our characters change wardrobe every scene! It’s so bad that Matteo improvised multiple jokes about our lack of standards (“Where did I get this coat?!). Don’t get me started on how our characters change blocking (positions within the scene) between shots. I mean it. Don’t.
With no money or resources, Justin and I had to be selective in our filming locations. That meant choosing places we could film for free: Justin’s father’s basement, local forests, sports fields, etc. One of our most unique locations was that drainage tube from Mortimer’s “flashback”. Justin and I had to hike down a steep hill in a local forest to reach that place. And, once we got there, we wrapped our feet in plastic grocery bags so we could wade in the stream. Why didn’t we just wear rubber boots? We were dumb teenagers and didn’t plan ahead. That’s why… Worst part is the bags didn’t even work. They filled with water almost instantly and our feet got wet anyway.
That wasn’t even the worst part about filming this tunnel scene though… That day, I kept the movie script in my jacket and pulled it out to learn my lines between shots. However, my jacket had no inner pocket, so I had to pin it to my side with my arms. Unfortunately, my arm got a little too loose at one point and the script fell into the stream! Sounds pretty rough, huh? It got worse. The script proceeded to float down-stream. Justin and I tried to chase the thing, but he and I couldn’t move fast enough with those water-filled bags on our feet. We were forced to watch our sad little sheet of paper be carried away by the current…
Another film-shoot failure from PoB 2 was our first attempt at the “Tower blitz” scene (the big set-piece from Tower of the Beavers where I get to kill everyone!) Originally we were going to populate that sequence with tonnes of random extras. Justin even put out a casting call online and hired some people (for credit) for the big day! But nobody showed up… Justin and I waited patiently at that field for a good couple hours. Not a soul came by. He and I tried to make the most of our disappointing situation by brainstorming some ideas for the movie, but that was cold comfort. This might be the most pathetic day in our film-making careers to date.
For attempt number 2 at the “Tower Blitz”, we hired some friends of ours (including part-time TPM collaborator Jessica Yeoman, in her first TPM appearance) and returned to the field during our school’s lunch break. This was the first time Justin or I ever had to direct more than two other people at a time. It was a complete mess. Nobody knew what they were doing: not the actors, and certainly not us. Justin had made these super-detailed diagrams to choreograph the scene, but they were completely illegible and he had trouble explaining them (once again, we were new to directing). And I had no clue what he had in mind either! Somehow we got the scene done though. I think the crew had fun too. I remember the day as a good time, but it taught Justin and I some valuable lessons: namely, to thoroughly pre-plan big set-pieces.
Yet another production failure was so bad it brought Justin to tears. Yes, I’m talking about the scene where Alexander murders the poor dog. For this setup, Justin had to bring the knife down in a stabbing while I sprayed a bottle of ketchup all over him (I also did the camera work). In yet another instance where planning would have been prudent, Justin and I came to set under the assumption we could find ketchup rather than bringing our own. Justin’s father’s house was close by, after all. He would have ketchup in the fridge, right? Kinda. All he had was spicy ketchup. I’d never even heard of the stuff before that day! Anyway, when Justin and I filmed the scene, I sprayed the spicy ketchup right into his eyes. So his tears were real in that clip. I guess that’s one of the few times a mistake of ours actually helped the movie.
Here’s a fun fact: Justin and I never even bothered to name any of the characters. Our script listed Mortimer as “Aussie/ Adventurer”, Alexander as “Man”, and Jack Kennaugh as “Manimal”. Each of those names was improvised for the movie in our second-to-last scene. When Matteo goes on that spiel about Mort meaning “death in French” and all that, he was just making it up on the spot. I simply went along with him.
Similarly, Justin just came up with the name Alexander on the spot. Matteo happened to think about Alexander the Great, so he shared his thought aloud, and I improvised Mortimer’s “haven’t shown me anything great” line. When Justin walks off camera in that scene, it wasn’t because he was acting angry: it was because he was about to laugh uncontrollably and didn’t want to ruin the shot. I still don’t know how Matteo and I managed to do that whole sequence in one take without breaking character… Last but not least, Matteo improvised the name “Jack Kennaugh” on the spot as well. Justin didn’t even realize the name was a joke until I pointed it out more bluntly. His reaction in camera is genuine.
And here I want to give a special shout out to Matteo for almost single-handedly saving this production (and the PoB franchise). Justin and I were originally going to kill off “Manimal Number 1” in PoB 3 and fire Matteo. We didn’t have anything against the man. He was very funny! But Justin and I had no actual plans for Matteo’s character at the time of filming.
We also wrongly assumed that Matteo wasn’t a legitimate actor and that the “Manimal” shtick was a lightning in a bottle gag that would overstay its welcome. Little did we know Matteo was a fantastic talent with a solid acting range! His hilariously improvised performance as the quirky scientist Jack Kennaugh convinced Justin and I to keep him around permanently. It also helped that he had great chemistry with us. I can’t even imagine what Planet of the Beavers would have looked like in that alternate timeline without “The Doc”.
I don’t think I would have become good friends with Matteo were it not for his performance in PoB 2. He seemed like a nice, though strange fellow. And he is. But I was judging him almost entirely based on his Manimal performance. He was so good in his role that I mistook his acting skills for genuine personality traits. Seeing him as Jack Kennaugh completely re-framed my outlook on his person and I immediately respected his talent way more. Matteo and I went on to be genuine friends after Tower of the Beavers.
Tower of the Beavers Narrative/ Film-making Analysis
NOTE: Tower of the Beavers wasn’t originally intended to have a great deal of subtext. But Planet of the Beavers is a series which builds on each previous installment, and later episodes helped to “deepen” this one. So that’s how I choose to examine PoB 2: by putting the film in context of the larger story.
Following a brief reminder of how Planet of the Beavers ended (Mortimer and the Manimals leave the woods and discover that Beavers have taken over the world), our story picks up just after that moment. Mortimer and Manimal Number 2 stand on the road, with Manimal Number 1 presumably off camera eating bugs or playing with the Beaver sign, and Mortimer decrees that this unlikely band of adventurers will follow the road to find what’s left of humanity.
Mortimer is framed as the lead of both this film and the group. He stands tall, confident, and commanding whilst Alex slouches and passively agrees to Mortimer’s suggestions. These actions and dynamics serve to build up PoB’s subversion of the hero’s journey trope. Mort is confident, collected, a good leader and a capable warrior (as we’re about to learn) but he is not the hero. And the next few scenes strongly hint at that fact.
Though Mort is a cheery fellow who appears to care about the Manimals, he is also a cold-blooded killer. In the next two scenes, Mortimer murders a beaver and half a dozen people with a hearty laugh and a wide grin on his face. The movie’s light tone makes these moments fun and care-free but they further prove that Mortimer is not who he says he is: that being a kindly Australian adventurer who happened to get caught in the apocalypse (for more reasons to see Mortimer as suspicious, read my original Planet of the Beavers analysis).
Mortimer’s personality also begins to change in this installment. Or at least expand in an unexpected direction. Whereas in the first movie, Mort was presented as a happy-go-lucky sort and a leader, he looks positively dour in comparison to the energy Doc and Alex exude. Seeing how these guys are, Mort knows he must be the serious one of the group if they are to survive. Mort also plants the seeds for his future inferiority complex in the final scene.
When confronted by Doc on his choice of music (Queen, of course) Mort snaps at him and appears resentful at being questioned. Up until now, he’s been the group’s obvious choice for leader. But now Alex and Doc have more agency and have ideas of their own. Mortimer’s core conflict throughout the series is that his desire to be important outweighs his actual importance in the world. Even a little confrontation such as the one at the end of PoB 2 triggers Mort’s inner-conflict and teases bigger triggers for later.
Skipping back a bit to the first flashback– Mortimer stands in a drainage tube with a “guide”, presumably exploring the wilderness (as he told us in the first PoB). Mortimer’s guide tells him of a “judgment day” legend involving the rockband Queen. There’s soon a tremor and the men are attacked by beavers. Almost instantly, the Guide devolves into a Manimal and attacks Mortimer as well. The whole situation is so strange and ridiculously specific to this world’s in-jokes (Beavers and Queen) that it reads as a hollow attempt at backstory. That’s because it is.
In PoB 3, it’s revealed that Mortimer was “programmed” by the beavers to think of himself as an “Australian Adventurer” when, in fact, he’s someone entirely different. Looking at this scene through that lens, it’s apparent how contrived and convenient the situation is. Everything we know about Mortimer plays out in one moment: he’s an adventurer who came to the woods, he was unaffected by whatever turned people into Manimals, and he met a guy who talked about Beavers (presumably the same one who died of exhaustion, as per Mortimer’s story). This is a moment planted in Mortimer’s head, as well as ours, to re-affirm who this character is and what he was doing just before the apocalypse. But it’s all a lie.
Following this scene, Mortimer and Alex enter the radio tower and attempt to contact other survivors. But something unexpected happens when Mortimer re-wires the circuit (another skill which a simple Australian Adventurer may be unlikely to possess): Manimal Number 2 begins reverting back to a man! Cutting the wire appears to break some sort of mental conditioning.
As Jack later notes: the radio tower emitted a frequency which impacted the minds of everyone within its range (except Mortimer) and turned them into Manimals. What possible purpose does this tower serve? Who set it up in the first place? These questions are never answered in full. It’s just another mysterious piece of the pre-apocalypse world which nobody can fully comprehend. But perhaps the most important question is “why doesn’t it affect Mortimer?” To quote Maz Kanada from Star Wars: “A good question– for another time.”
Here we get a second flashback: this time we follow Alex as he survives the apocalypse and devolves into a Manimal. Almost right away, this sequence follows through on that joke from PoB 1 where Alex claims he can simply “make” weapons. Turns out he could! Sorry to underestimate ya, Alex! The scene also explains what happened to that dog he found…
The murder of dogs in movies is always controversial. It’s a surefire way to make your audience hate a character. So Alexander’s murder ran a real risk of alienating people. But he was in a survival situation, and he had to make a tough choice. He didn’t make it lightly though, as evidenced by his breakdown after the killing. Above all, this demonstrates that Alex cares about life. Mortimer, in contrast, doesn’t (or at least, Mort is more nonchalante about murder).
This survival sequence also demonstrates Alex’s inner strength and willingness to survive, even though he’s a generally pathetic human being. Alex also appears to turn into a Manimal over a longer period of time than Mortimer’s Guide. This begs the question: was Alex’s willpower a factor in retaining his humanity? If so, that makes Alex a stronger character than he generally gets credit for being.
Placing such emphasis on Alex establishes him as equal to Mortimer (on a narrative level that is). Both are important enough characters to deserve a backstory. Alex might not be as capable as Mort, but he’s someone we ought to care about and not simply think of as a “Manimal”.
So what about Jack Kennaugh then? Well– Doc is an enigma. Though he suffers from amnesia, the same as the rest of the squad, he seems to remember a lot more about the past than Mort or Alex. Yet he’s the only member of our trio who doesn’t get a flashback scene. Still, we discover a lot about Jack in the second-to-last sequence. For one thing: he’s super smart. Jack spouts technical jargon with extreme confidence. We already got hints of Jack’s intelligence from his behaviour as a Manimal in PoB 1 (explained further in my analysis for that film), but this installment confirms him as the trio’s resident genius.
Jack also inherently knows that the piece of metal in his pocket is a family heirloom (a tease for a future plot thread). But, when asked how he knows that, Jack provides a vague reply. He also speaks with a faux British accent which he assumes lends him credibility. Jack is immediately charming but he’s also suspect. Is he a goofy genius, or somebody with secrets which he hides through comedy? We’ll discover what his deal is later.
Speaking of the amnesia plot point, I ought to address that next. Many people consider amnesia a cheap and cliché storytelling tactic. That’s a fair assessment in many cases. But let me explain what we were going for: in this post-apocalyptic land, your character from the world before no longer matters. The rules as we know them are out the window. The amnesia is a form of rebirth, whereby our main characters literally forget their past selves and embrace the people they are at present.
From a story standpoint, however: the amnesia is caused by exposure to the radio tower. Whatever turns people into Manimals appears to damage the brain’s capacity for memory. So that’s what all the amnesia stuff is about: our characters remember bits and pieces of things from the before-world (like Queen, rock music in general, and other bits bits of pop culture) but their identities have essentially been erased.
In the final scene, “Doc” Kennaugh berates Mortimer for his desire to “exit” to Queen music. He insists that the group keep things fresh and switch up their style for the future. This moment foreshadows Doc’s mantra: “Always forward; never back”. We then blatantly quote the final scene to Guardians of the Galaxy (“something good; something bad; a bit of both”) and close PoB 2 with the same song as that film. Here PoB teased its new style of storytelling: homage-heavy narrative which puts its own spin on iconic movie franchises.
Though PoB 1 laid out the buildings blocks for what would would eventually become Thought Plane Media, PoB 2 was the project that started putting the pieces together. And PoB 3 nearly tore the whole thing down just when we were on a role. But that’s a story for next time.
Am I being too harsh on this one? If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!
Till next time,