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Review: Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

Directed by: J. Lee Thompson

Premise: The fifth and final film in the Planet of the Apes series. After the revolt of the apes in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, an off screen nuclear war has destroyed human civilization. Caesar (Roddy McDowell) leads a group of apes and humans in establishing a new society but a militaristic gorilla (Claude Akins) plots to overthrow Caesar while a group of humans plan to invade the new ape city.

What Works: Battle for the Planet of the Apes is an attempt to wrap up the saga and bring both the characters and the ongoing themes of the Apes series to a conclusion. After bringing humans and simians to a genocidal precipice at the end of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Battle pulls back and presents the possibility of a peaceful resolution. In the space between the two films, Caesar’s character has become a husband and a father, and he is presented in this film as a healer who advocates tolerance and mediation. His relationship with his son is particularly effective at humanizing the character and Caesar and his son have some delicate scenes together. In some ways Battle is an improvement over Conquest because it embraces more complex ideas about building a society. As the ape city is attacked both from within and from without, the film is able to put stress on Caesar’s idealism of a pure ape society and that idealism is effectively shattered in the film’s secondary climax. Moving the story and the characters past their idealism and into a more practical state of mind gives the film an appropriately ambiguous ending that is consistent with the tone and themes of the series while providing an vague glimmer of hope. The film’s refusal to give itself over to complete optimism or pessimism ends the series on a note that is considerably more mature than a lot of Hollywood fantasy films.

What Doesn’t: Battle for the Planet of the Apes is the last chapter of the Apes saga and like many final chapters in ongoing franchises, the film strains to tie up all of the series’ loose ends. Battle has several narratives to balance which it does with mixed results. The possible coup does not have much tension, in part because General Aldo is a simplistic brute with no ideology, and the invasion from the outside is not a credible threat. The film also suffers structurally. Caesar does not really do anything and in the screenwriter’s efforts to make him more likable and pacifistic they also rob the character of his passion and motivation. There are no critical choices to be made until the ending and the film has multiple climaxes. The major climax, the final showdown between apes and man, does not give the audience a satisfactorily epic conclusion. According to the documentary Behind the Planet of the Apes, the budgets for each Apes film were gradually lowered on each production. Although the filmmakers were able to find ways to compensate in previous sequels, in Battle for the Planet of the Apes that lower budget catches up to the set design and make up effects and the film has an overall look of a 1970s made-for-TV movie. The final battle for dominion over the earth isn’t nearly as grand as it ought to be and so the major climax of the film is underwhelming.

DVD Extras: Featurettes and trailers.

Bottom Line: Battle for the Planet of the Apes isn’t as grandiose of a finale as viewers of the series might hope for, but the film has some interesting ideas and it does manage to bring the story to a more or less satisfying conclusion.

Episode: #352 (August 14, 2011)