Battle for the Planet of the Apes (J. Lee Thompson, 1973)

“All knowledge is for good. Only the use to which you put it can be good or evil”

Introduction

When you watch the Blu-Ray versions of the series, they are introduced by the ‘lawgiver’. Considering he does not appear in any of the films until Battle for the Planet of the Apes, it seems a bit unneccessary. Even in this film, it is more a cameo of John Huston, rather than a neccessary facet to the film. It bookends the film before flashing back to a period shortly after the end of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. In the time period between the films, a nuclear bomb has killed many humans and all apes can now speak. Considering this has all happened within a human lifetime is shocking – even MacDonald from the previous film has a ‘brother’ (Austin Stoker) who is Ceasar’s (Roddy McDowell) close, human-friend. Differences to the timeline have included a rule whereby the word ‘No’ is forbidden and ‘Apes do not kill other Apes’. But there is a conflict between the species – Gorilla’s are angry about their previous enslavement, humans are already a ‘lower’ class but they can talk. This is the final confrontation between humans and apes.

Back to the Original …

It seems to me that producers and writers wanted to hark back to the first film and get out of the city-scape and human-dominance of the previous two installments. The apes are the dominant species now – something that has not been the case since Beneath the Planet of the Apes. The existence of Ceasar though is different to the original ‘sacred scrolls’ text. We don’t know where this future will lead. Ceasar is much more understanding and wants humans and apes to co-exist together – but this is an opinion not shared by all. The theme of ‘exploration’ is tackled further. Ceasar wants to know about his parents – Cornelius and Zira – which MacDonald explains is possible if they visit the Forbidden City. Unknown to the apes, malformed humans are still alive beneath the city – and the visit is shortlived as Governor Kolp (Severn Darden reprising his role from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes) uses this as a reason to strike against the apes, starting a war, attempting to take them out before they continue their dominance of the planet.

One of the few strengths of the film is how it references so many of the previous installments – footage from Escape from the Planet of the Apes, mention of the ALPHA-OMEGA bomb worshipped in Beneath the Planet of the Apes – show how the producers wanted to honour what had preceded in this story. Unfortunately, some awful acting and small-scale sequences made what should’ve been an epic, huge-scale finale into a whimper of a finish.

“Are their any jobs available on that ‘Death Star’ thing?”

The Malformed Humans

We know that the ‘circle’ of events from Planet of the Apes should loop around – and the radiation poisioning of the humans in this film clearly precedes the hugely deformed humans in Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Interestingly, when I analysed Planet of the Apes, I noted how – as a planet – the ‘apes’ dusty location, the endless desert, reminded me of Star Wars and the planet of Tatooine. Due to the negative-associations of the uniforms worn by Nazi’s in World War II, it seems that both Lucas and Thompson both used this World War II reference point to design costumes for the villains in Darth Vader and Governor Kolp. Because of this, Kolp seems to be almost Darth Vader in every form – except without the mask and voice. Long, black jacket and over-sized collars. Both have huge physiques that, as they lead their armies, connects their intelligence in leading an army with the brute-force of a wrestler or fighter. Considering that both Star Wars and Planet of the Apes were very-much a part of the Sci-Fi scene in the 70’s, I’m sure Lucas considered what made Planet of the Apes successful was the ‘alien’ look of the planet.

Ape-City if Built

We recall vividly Charlton Heston’s mistreatment in the first film, and yet here we see an Ape-City which is built whereby humans play with apes. The Gorilla’s are what threatens this – and the death of Ceasar’s child is what truly changes his attitude. Gorilla’s break rules to get their own way – opposed to fairness and equality. Even Ceasar does not initially believe in the equality which humans expect – the change in this stance is what changes the foundations of Ape-City and the future of the planet.

As we flash-forward again, the lawgiver is revealed to be telling a story to children: apes and humans together, living in harmony. A child asks “Who knows about the future” and the lawgiver replies:

“Perhaps only the dead…”

And a single-tear falls from a Ceasar-statue behind the group. It doesn’t really make sense – tears of joy for the continued co-existence of humans and apes? an awareness of the future? (Taylor’s – at this stage – future arrival to shake-up the balance?) or did Ceasar want apes to dominate? It really seems like one of those endings that thinks it is more profound than it actually is. Battle for the Planet of the Apes is, very-much, an anti-climax to the saga. Trying to take the film back to its roots, it seems to fail at showing any ‘truth’ to the apes history. Merely tackling themes which have already been explored and extending a story that we could have mentally filled-in after Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. It is not a suprise that this was the last theatrical-film until 2001, whereby Tim Burton, in the time of Lord of the Rings, Gladiator and Braveheart, would release his own ‘re-imagining’…

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