Newest Review: ... who survived in search of greener pastures, where ape and human might forever live in friendship, according to divine will. His name was Ca... more
Battle For The Planet Of The Apes (DVD)
Member Name: Jake Speed
Battle For The Planet Of The Apes (DVD)
Advantages: Roddy McDowall
Disadvantages: It's a bit rubbish
1973's Battle for the Planet of the Apes, directed by J Lee Thompson, is the weakest of the films in the cult sixties/seventies science fiction franchise. It's rather dull at times and the ever shrinking budget element to the series reaches its apex here with a film that looks like it was shot in a small orchard. A shame really that they were never able to put more money into these pictures and give them more of an epic feel. Battle for the Planet of the Apes is told in flashback by the Great Lawgiver (John Huston) in 2670 A.D. (the coda reveals more about this structural device) and is set in a post-nuclear society a few decades on from the events of the previous film Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. The distinguished tones of Huston provide an important function besides giving the film a veneer of class. A capsule introduction that reminds us where exactly we are after four films of (sometimes bewildering) time looping monkey capers and atomic paranoia. "In the beginning, God created beast and man, so that both might live in friendship and share dominion over a world at peace. But in the fullness of time, evil men betrayed God's trust and, in disobedience to His holy word, waged bloody wars... not only against their own kind, but against the apes, whom they reduced to slavery. Then God, in His wrath, sent the world a savior, miraculously born of two apes who had descended on Earth from Earth's own future. And man was afraid, for both parent apes possessed the power of speech. So both were brutally murdered. But the child ape survived and grew up to set his fellow creatures free from the yoke of human slavery. Yet, in the aftermath of his victory, the surface of the world was ravaged by the vilest war in human history. The great cities of the world split asunder and were flattened. And out of one such city, our savior led a remnant of those who survived in search of greener pastures, where ape and human might forever live in friendship, according to divine will. His name was Caesar, and this is his story in those far-off days..."
Caesar (Roddy McDowall of course) is the king of Ape City (picture a sparsely populated Ewok village) where humans and apes now try to peacefully co-exist - although apes seem to have the upper hand and be the ones wearing the trousers when it comes to the crunch. He is married to Lisa (Natalie Trundy), the female chimp from Conquest and has a son named named Cornelius (Bobby Porter). However, as usual trouble is soon looming for our furry hero in the form of a mad gorilla general named Aldo (Claude Akins) who wants to stage a coup and start enslaving and killing humans. It wouldn't be a Planet of the Apes film without at least one nutty gung-ho gorilla general out to cause trouble. There is also the pesky problem of the radiation rife humans led by Governor Kolp (Severn Darden) in the Forbidden City (presumably the remains of New York) who plot Mad Max style raids on the Ape City. I'm making this film sound more far exciting than it actually is. Anyway, Caesar is told by his human assistant MacDonald (Austin Stoker) that some actual film of his parents resides in the Forbidden City and he becomes curious to seek it out despite the obvious danger of such a trip. This mission is interpreted as an act of espionage by Governor Kolp and General Aldo becomes ever more brazen and hostile in his attitude to Caesar and the humans they have an uneasy truce with. Series regular Paul Dehn skipped the sole writing duties on this one through illness (I imagine he must have gone insane by now after writing three of these films in a row) and was largely replaced by John and Joyce (Omega Man) Corrington. Dehn's absence is felt badly and the dialogue is as unmemorable as the deja vu heavy plot which riffs on previous entries (especially Beneath the Planet of the Apes) a lot, regurgitating the mysterious human mutants and bonkers gorilla general threads. It looks more like an episode of a television series than a film and once again - like all Planet of the Apes films - doesn't make an awful lot of sense if you think about it too much.
There are plot holes in this series you could drive a double decker bus through. The apes in Conquest were grunting shuffling domesticated savages who were barely capable of delivering a pudding to a restaurant dinner table but now they can speak and have set up their own society. All in Caesar's lifetime! That was quick work. The most noticeable thing about the film is the way that it tries to end the franchise on an optimistic note after the darkness of the previous entries. There is an obvious and laudable message/subtext here but I'm not sure Planet of the Apes should ever really try to end on a happy note. George A Romero wouldn't make a film where they discovered a cure to the zombie crisis and all lived happily ever after. Once again it is Roddy McDowall who makes the film more watchable than it should be and he has some touching moments and scenes involving his son. McDowall does some of his best work in the series here in the quieter moments. One thing that is apparent in the series as whole - and especially here - is how the supporting ape extras have rubbish masks as if they didn't have enough to go around. Even General Aldo has a dreadful mask and looks a bit strange despite being one of the main characters. There just isn't much scope to the production and I found it the dullest out of the Apes films to get through without becoming a trifle bored. Nice to see Assault On Precinct 13 star Austin Stoker though and he works well with McDowall. Does it wrap up the series in a satisfactory way? Yes and no. It's a decent enough ending but the coda to Conquest felt like it was more in spirit with the tone of the series.
The various timelines and alternate timelines have become worse than Back to the Future by now and even the writers have no idea what is going on anymore. "Governor, somewhere along the line of history this bloody chain reaction has got to stop. A destroys B, B destroys C, C destroys A and is destroyed by D, who destroys E." Yes, ok. Battle for the Planet of the Apes has its moments but it's a cheap looking and largely forgettable film on the whole. Even when the battle scenes arrive there are so few extras or explosions (this film has far fewer special effects than its predecessors) that they fall rather flat and fail to inject any life into the picture. The "Battle" of the title never transpires in the fashion that one anticipates. It's a shame that the then still-standing Ape City set from the other films was unavailable and couldn't be incorporated into Battle for the Planet of the Apes. It would have been a nice link to the series and at least given the film a bit more scope and class in the design department. The best location in the film is the underground headquarters the human mutants use. The Hyperion Water Treatment Plant in Los Angeles was used for the subterranean scenes and its winding, labyrinthine corridors add a welcome sense of strangeness and atmosphere after all the sequences set in the boring orchard. Battle for the Planet of the Apes is worth a look if you've seen the other films purely for completist purposes but Conquest of the Planet of the Apes felt like a more appropriate place to draw the curtains on this series and was a much sharper and more interesting film to boot. Battle always feels like a film that was made for the sake of it rather than because anyone had a good idea or any ambitious plans.
At the time of writing you can buy a basic extras free version of Battle for the Planet of the Apes for a fiver. I would go for the Planet of the Apes box set as that is often dirt cheap and gives you all the films plus a documentary.