Directed by J. Lee Thompson
Written by John William Corrington & Joyce Hooper Corrington
At this point I feel a little bit of relief to be concluding the original series of Planet of the Apes films. That is not to say I did not enjoy my journey with these films, but I definitely think we are seeing diminishing returns. Despite the uptick with Conquest, it’s obvious that the producers of these films were capitalizing on their popularity at the time, rolling a new one out each year, and so slight as to suggest that it possibly should have been either a television series where various stories could be explored, or these last three films should have really just been a single contained epic movie to conclude a trilogy. The three films, Escape, Conquest, and Battle all deal with the rise of the apes to come full circle to both Planet of the Apes and Beneath. I would love to see some fan edit of these three films somehow mashed together to see if somehow they might be more compelling. Taken as separate parts, I think they ultimately come across as fast cash grabs while the franchise is still a fad.
We flash forward once again in time from Conquest, where the apes had revolted and presumably taken control of their own fates. Decades later, the apes are now flourishing as the dominate remaining intelligent life on earth. Led by Caesar (Roddy McDowall), the apes are living in huts in the wild while the nearby city is left in radioactive ruins. When told by MacDonald (Austin Stoker), one of the many humans peacefully coexisting with the apes, that there are records of his parents, Zira and Cornelius, still available in the archives of the city, Caesar leads an expedition to the city, despite the disagreement from the leader of the militant gorillas Aldo (Claude Akins). Upon arriving, they discover the city is still occupied by a group of mutilated humans, who follow them back to the ape camp with conflict and revenge in mind.
The same problems continue to reveal themselves in Battle as they were in Escape and Conquest to a lesser extent: the film is just too slight. There are plenty of interesting ideas at play, including the humans coexisting mostly peacefully at this point with the apes, but we know given the original film that eventually the humans will switch to become the mute slave enemy of the apes. How do we get there? I think telling the origin story of the strange underground humans which pop up in Beneath is also a rich avenue to pursue. But this film only scratches the surface of these topics, presenting them but giving no depth. It’s much too focused on getting through the main plot from start to finish as efficiently as possible. This makes me thing, especially since as I said these films were coming out one a year, that the film was run through the production line in a very sterile and uncreative manner. There is no room for J. Lee Thompson to put his stamp on it, to explore any curiosities, of which there are many.
On top of the lack of creative ambition with the film, the production values, which have never been outstanding, are really showing their seams here. In past installments, Conquest particularly, I think its obvious the budget is small, but the filmmakers have done well to best utilize what they have. The battle climatic battle scene here I think is perhaps the worst thing in the entire series, and its because the production values and choreography are extremely poor. It’s laughable to watch the humans slooooooowly traverse the field of battle in clunky school buses and gauche cannon trucks. It’s truly the culmination of a series of uninspired sequels that were successful in spite of themselves. There is rich text available here, and across all the sequels, but the ultimate failure of these last three films in the original series were that there was no creative license, no creative ambition to elevate the material, or deliver it in any polished or thoughtful way. It’s this that makes me saddened by this whimpering end, as I see so much potential, which is likely why the modern prequel trilogy was developed, and presumably was far more successful in telling the tale.