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Monday, May 20, 2013

Battle for the Planet of the Apes

The fifth, and final, installment in the Planet of the Apes franchise hit theaters in June of 1973. Battle for the Planet of the Apes (BPA) is considered by many, even fans of the series, to be the weakest of the five films. Roddy McDowell stars again as Caesar. Natalie Trundy stars as his chimp wife, Lisa. Claude Aikins stars as the gorilla general Aldo. BPA is a proper sequel, in that it picks up the story where Movie 4, Conquest, left off. 20th Century Fox felt the Apes phenomenon had run its course, so produced one more sequel to wrap up what became a confusing story arc. But, Fox was not completely through with Apes.

Quick Plot Synopsis
North America, 2670 A.D. The Lawgiver (John Houston) reads, in psuedo-biblical wording, a recap of the third and fourth movies. He then tells movie five's story as flashback. The war implied at the end of Movie 4, Conquest, has left most apes and humans dead. The cities are bombed out radioactive ruins. Some 12 (or 27?) years afterward, a dozen or so humans live in relative peace among the apes. Caesar is their leader. Aldo, leader of the gorilla faction foments trouble, disliking the humans. MacDonald (brother of the character in Movie 4) says Aldo hates everyone who isn't a gorilla. Mac also tells Caesar that he can hear and see his parents, via tapes in the city archives, and learn what the future holds (since they came from the future). Caesar, Mac and the wise orangutan, Virgil (Paul Williams) set out for the Forbidden City. They find it, and make their way underground to find the old city archives. Their movements are watched, however, by the remnant of humans who stayed in the city. These people wear hood-caps and have facial blemishes from the radiation. Their governor, Kolp (Severn Darden, reprising his Kolp character from Movie 4.) thinks the three are advance scouts for an attack by the apes. He orders them captured, but the three elude capture. He orders them killed, but they escape the city. Back in Ape City, Caesar calls a general council to say they must prepare for possible attack by the city humans. Aldo makes trouble about all humans. He and his gorilla faction walk out. Later, Caesar's young son, Cornelius, goes out at night searching for his lost pet squirrel. Cornelius comes upon a secret meeting of the gorillas, plotting the overthrow of Caesar. They see Cornelius in the tree. Aldo hacks the branch Cornelius is hanging onto. Cornelius falls, badly injured. A human doctor lady tends to him, but it doesn't look good. Meanwhile, Kolp has a ragtag army formed. They set out in a few jeeps, old cars and a school bus to attack Ape City. The attack comes. A long protracted gun battle plays out. Cornelius dies of his injuries. Caesar orders everyone to fall back. The mutants ride in triumphant. Kolp sees Caesar and threatens to kill him. All the not-really-dead apes jump up and overwhelm the mutants. Kolp and a few others escape in the school bus. Aldo and his gorillas ambush them and kill them all. Back in Ape City, there is a showdown between Aldo and Caesar. It comes out that Aldo cut the branch that caused Cornelius's death. The crowd chants at him. "Ape shall never kill ape." Aldo climbs a tree to escape. Caesar follows. They struggle in the branches. Aldo falls to his death. Jungle justice is served. Everyone agrees to live in peace and harmony. Kumbaya. End flashback, the Lawgiver finishes his history tale to a mixed class of ape and human children. Behind them is a stature of Caesar. Zoom in to see that the statue sheds a tear. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
McDowall does a creditable job with the Caesar character. Paul Williams does rather well as Virgil. The story / plot, on its own, better than fourth-sequels tend to be.

Cultural Connection
The Apes series began, in '68, as an allegory on racism, via species-ism. Movies 2 through 5 shifted the theme to anti-militarism. The general anti-war drumbeat, so common in the late-Vietnam era, made anti-war films an easy sell. The villain in BPA is not really the mutants in the city, but the two characters, Aldo and Kolp, who maniacally push for war. The message in BPA is: If we could just get rid of the bad (warrior) people, life would be all flowers and hearts.

Alternate Timeline -- Move 3, Escape introduced the complexity of alternate timelines. The writers in BPA try to explain it in an easily missed small scene with the Virgil character. He talks of time travel and a situation wherein a performer dislikes a recording of some music he played, so travels back in time to not make that performance. In the Apes series, there are two timelines. The first is Taylor's. He travels to HIS future to see that apes have "evolved" slowly over hundreds of years, to eventually take over Earth. Movie 2 Beneath has timeline 1 earth's destruction. With Movie 3, Escape, a second timeline begins when future apes enter the past. New timeline. Apes don't evolve slowly, but start with Cornelius and Zira. The Alpha-Omega bomb existed before Taylor left, but in timeline 2, it is not used. Hundreds of years of conflict between man and ape does not happen. Instead, everyone lives in peace. That's how the writers wrapped up the series. They all lived happily ever after.

Important Deletions -- For some reason, Fox decided to cut two rather important scenes from the final theatrical release. The first deleted scene has Kolp showing Alma (France Nuyen) the Alpha-Omega missile and how to launch it. This scene comes just before Kolp leads his mutant minions on the attack of Ape City. He wanted her to fire it, if he signaled that the Apes were winning. The second deleted scene came near the end. Alma hasn't heard from Kolp, so feels she must launch the missile. Mendez talks her out of it. Give peace a chance, etc. The first deleted scene is important because it made a link to Movie 2, Beneath. The second deleted scene is important as it mirrors the peaceful resolution in Ape City. Once the mean-old-militarists (Kolp and Aldo) were dead, everyone else could smile again.

Sophomorism -- The husband and wife writing team of John and Joyce Corrington adapted Matthison's "I Am Legend" into The Omega Man ('71) with an undercurrent of biblical themes. In BPA, they seem to have pandered to sophomoric atheists. The Corringtons have the Virgil character repeat two popular "arguments" against Christianity. At one point he mocks the humans' religious idea of a happy afterlife. "If that were so, we'd all commit suicide so we could enjoy it." (ergo, since no one does, that proves no one believes it's true.) The second comes when he asks "how a benevolent god can allow a branch to break and cause the death of an innocent child." The question is left unanswered, as if it were unanswerable. The Problem of Evil is complex and too nuanced for reduction to sophomore levels.

Headed For Prime Time -- The look and feel of BPA is that of a made-for-TV movie. While BPA was not a pilot, Fox Television did launch a Planet of the Apes series in in 1974. It, too, starred Roddy McDowall as the lead "chimpanzee", though renamed Galen and unrelated to Cornelius or Caesar. The basic premise is a recast of Movie 1, but with Galen and the two astronauts as fugitives sharing adventures as they flee (ala, The Fugitive). The series only ran for one season, but sets of episodes were reworked into several made-for-TV movies, just like old Zombies of the Stratosphere serial of '52 was pieced together to make a Satan's Satellites movie in '58.

Never Enough? -- Film critics rejoiced that the Apes series was finally ended, The public seemed to have achieved Ape-saturation too, as the TV series only ran one season. But, satiety fades. In 2001, Tim Burton did a remake of the '68 original (though with less subtlety). In 2011, Rupert Wyatt started a new story line in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Caesar becomes sentient from genetic meddling (not hundreds of years of 'evolution' or future genes in the past). A sequel in this new story line is said to be in the works. Maybe people really can't get enough of Planet of the Apes.

Bottom line? BPA is not an especially good film. Yet, for a threadbare fourth sequel, it is better than one might expect. The sci-fi part present only by inference from the prior films in the series. The low budget makes itself apparent. Fans of the prior films can enjoy a concluding chapter. Viewers less keen on the earlier Apes will find only more of the same.

1 comment:

Randall Landers said...

I must admit that I rather enjoy BPA a good bit. Yes, it's actually targeted toward a juvenile audience, but that's cool in the case. I see this film as a direct lead-in to the PoA series. The series is some years into the future from this film, wherein Man and Ape are not quite living in perfect harmony. Or perhaps as another alternate reality all together. Still, I was happy enough with the PoA TV series, but no one else was.

And odd as it may seem, I find both BPA and PoA TV superior by far to Burton's ridiculous film which turned me off from the "modern" Ape franchise altogether.