Grade: DBattle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

Director: J. Lee Thompson

Stars: John Huston, Roddy McDowall, Claude Akins

Release Company: 20th Century Fox

MPAA Rating: G

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Thompson: Battle for the Planet of the Apes


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Battle for the Planet of the Apes (thankfully) finishes the theater versions of the series. With the budgets decreasing, creative ideas waning, and costumes and makeup getting more worn-out, it's a good thing that this is the final sequel. There are some made for television movies, but I certainly have no desire to check them out after seeing this rather lame chapter. Only Beneath the Planet of the Apes is comparably inept, but that sequel at least has Charlton Heston for laughs.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes just isn't much fun, nor do the screenwriters even throw in a few deliberately cheesy laughs. Since the story concept comes from Paul Denn, who gave us those riotous apes from the previous sequel, I am assuming that John William Corrington and Joyce Hooper Corrington are the humorless couple that developed the joyless final script.

A few pieces of the puzzle are filled in. Battle begins some 600 years after the 1991 ape riots, as the Lawgiver, personified by veteran actor/director John Huston, tells about the heroic Caesar and how he led a band of apes to freedom in the late 20th century. More Huston would be a plus for this film, but he was just on the set for a one-day shoot to save on the budget.

Thus, we only see Huston in his orangutan outfit to bookend the movie. If we haven't realized his significance at the beginning, Battle does point it out by showing the statue of Caesar at the end, which is along the same lines as the religious leader canonized in the original of the series. That great leader is none other than our humble beginning and ending narrator, the Lawgiver.

Outside of Huston's appearance, there's not much to savor in this episode. Caesar and some apes are camped out in the woods like Robin Hood and are engaged in training for a new ape society. The humans are tolerated and used as teachers by Caesar and the chimpanzees while the gorillas, led by Aldo (Claude Akins), want to kill all the humans (and perhaps others).

Since the main message preached over and over is that "Ape does not kill ape," we can correctly predict that this basic law will be violated. And it's not difficult to figure out whom the lawbreaker will be, as the lines are delineated just as they are in previous episodes. Caesar and the chimpanzees counsel peace, Aldo and the gorillas just want to rumble, and the orangutans seek wisdom and balance.

At one point Caesar decides that he wants to find out what the future holds, so he must venture to a bombed-out city full of radiation to procure an archived tape of his parents, Dr. Zira and Cornelius. This brings him into contact with some evil humans living beneath the rubble, and they take off after the ape community like Mad Max characters in an old school bus and other rundown vehicles. The human leader, Kolp, is no professional hambone like Heston, so even his cheesiest line falls flat: "But every Caesar must have its Brutus, ape! And now Ape City is about to lose its king."

The battle scenes are really cheap and boring. Don't expect any great special effects: The bombs are little more than leftover 4th of July fireworks and hardly more powerful than sparklers. The cinematographers don't even give us any great close-ups during the action. It's all medium and long shots without specific focus. Perhaps this was a budgetary decision as well, since they obviously didn't spend much time to block out significant action sequences. The main way the director attempts to bring some excitement to the battle scenes is by turning up the overwrought musical score of blaring trumpets. It doesn't work.

Roddy McDowall does his usual fine job as the peacemaking chimpanzee. An interesting addition to the ape family is Paul Williams as the philosophic orangutan, Virgil. I must assume that he is an ancestor to The Lawgiver, as he consistently chooses Truth and modifies Shakespearean oratory with lines like, "All knowledge is for good. Only the use to which you put it can be good or evil."

After seeing the previous episodes of Planet of the Apes, you may eventually turn to this finale. Just don't expect it to tie up all the loose ends, because each episode is tacked on to the previous one without a view towards the larger picture. Though this gives a limited picture of what Caesar does immediately after the city riots, and shows a bit of the aftermath after a human war has devastated urban civilization, it leaves the apes and humans co-existing in peace. We know that that must change, but I certainly don't want to risk watching any of the made-for-TV movies to see what they invent to cover that plot hole. Watching this finale was painful enough.

 


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