Battle for the Planet of the Apes
d. J. Lee Thompson / 1973 / USA / 93 mins
After the surprisingly violent and pessimistic Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, this final movie in the original series attempts to end on a somewhat more upbeat note and is clearly a conscious choice to win back its younger audience. Now that apes have become the dominant species, Caesar (Roddy McDowall once again) is left to build what future he can for his followers, hoping that they can change Earth’s violent destiny and coexist as apes and humans in peace. It’s an ending that doesn’t give much reasoning for its claims. The film has little interest in developing a story about personal responsibility and choice, leaving characters more often than not to just hope for the best.
Once again the latest film received a cut in budget that turns the “battle” between apes, man and mutants into more of a skirmish against twenty men, three jeeps and a school bus. The mutants are dull and uninteresting, about as bored with their existence as we find ourselves being with them. Their dark jackets, balaclavas and coloured skiing goggles make them look like second class goons for Bond villains.
Credibility is strained to its absolute breaking point. In approximately twenty years all of civilisation has been levelled and replaced by arid desert, the humans and apes have been reduced to living in wooden huts, reliant on horse and carts and seem quite happy to be doing so. Reality is put aside in favour of a Swiss Family Robinson like existence. The worst offender is that in these short years, every ape has learnt how to talk as well as Caesar himself. Bearing in mind that within their own lifetimes these apes were mute and incapable of advanced thinking, it makes the jump in evolution finally extinguish any believability that might be left in the universe.
The film is entertaining in the same manner that Beneath the Planet of the Apes was, as a B movie adventure. Any audiences who have stayed with the series up until now will no doubt be delighted by Roddy McDowall’s continued performance, who somehow manages to inject life into a predictable script by writers John William Corrington and Joyce Hooper Corrington. Bewilderingly, John Huston joins the cast with two brief appearances as the Lawgiver although is utterly wasted with simple narration.
Younger audiences, fans and those looking for a budget sci-fi thrill with a little more character than its competitors will still enjoy this last outing but unless you are willing to accept significant flaws then there is little to encourage a viewing. The sequels to Planet of the Apes are fun, frivolous pictures that are supported by individual moments and performances that are capable of being quite memorable. If more effort and faith had been put into making them great films in their own right then things might have been different. As they are they remain exercises in attempting to tell more of a story that has nothing left to be told. The ability to visit pockets in it’s history is a pleasurable one, but nothing can compare to that first sensational visit to the planet of the apes.