Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Naptown Nerd Goes Ape: Battle For The Planet Of The Apes (1973)

Battle For The Planet Of The Apes
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Starring: Roddy McDowall, Claude Akins, Natalie Trundy, Severn Darden, Lew Ayres, Paul Williams, John Huston
Rated:  They went back to G again

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

We now reach the end of the original canon but not the last of its reaches of the 70s mind you.  Battle was indeed the final film in the series.  However, instead of going all out, the budget was once again reduced for a movie that called for probably the most action in the series.  The returns were dwindling, so it really made sense.  And back then announcing the final chapter didn't stir up excitement as much as it did "oh its finally done" for the general cinema going audiences.  For fans of the series back in the 70s I'm sure it was a pretty big deal.
In the scope of just the original canon, the fifth Apes movie is much maligned and pretty much considered the worst in the series.  I really think this movie gets a bad rap.  And I think part of the problem is that its budget severely kneecapped and grandiose vision and scale this movie could have had.  Instead it looks and plays really cheap.  And I'm sure that's a tough sell on people, but its not like things look terrible, they just could have been more and been enhanced.  And, oh yeah, General Aldo is one annoying asshole.  I'll give that.  Least favorite Ape of the series for sure!
For me, the thematics and story are all still in play here.  The film isn't afraid to go dark like an Apes film (Caesar's son Cornelius is killed after all), but it does feel a bit more light hearted in a lot of its approach.  Maybe this was a result of how bleak the ending of the previous film was and people not caring for it back then?  We get to see the early beginnings of the functioning civilization we saw in the first and second movie (Apes are apparently born with an instinct to make those outfits).  But, this time around they're trying to co-exist with humans, albeit on Ape terms. 
Oh and we get early mutants.  I say early, because they are not fully forged yet like those in Beneath, likely due to full makeup not being in the budget.  I really enjoy the mutant stuff going on.  From their Forbidden City to their caravan for the attack and the outfits.  This aethestic and look of everything, especially being in a desert area, really looks like it was an inspiration for such post-apocalyptic science fiction films like Mad Max that came later. 
Probably the most glaring issue with the movie is indeed its scale.  For as big and final as this movie is supposed to be, it sure feels quite small and very closed in.  I think the story points, drama and conflict are all there and work, it just needed to be beefed up in execution.  They didn't have the money for that.  So in the end it winds up being like 15 mutants vs maybe 30 apes in a small village for your epic conclusion and final battle?  There's also no global sense of what's going on either.  It feels as if the entire Earth is only the tiny ape village and the radioactive ruins of the Forbidden City.  Yeah, the Forbidden City and Caesar's mission there with Austin Stoker of Assault On Precinct 13 fame is awesome, but the villains just seems so "swepted under the rug" tedious that its hard to buy into them being a threat.  Sure, they have the holy bomb, but its just hard to drive up a scare no matter of cool and Road Warrior-esque I think their apparrel and travel is.
I'm not a hater of Battle.  Not even close.  I think its maybe not as solid, executed or held together as well as the previous four movies, but its still entertaining and does bring the series to a nice sort of "full circle" effect.  We get to see the Lawgiver (a statue in the first two movies) in action.  And he's played by John Huston?  How'd that happen?  I think some of its stylings and events have proven to be an inspiration for later films just as much as the other four.  Heck, Dawn is basically doing what was Rise did with Conquest from the looks of it.  And good for them, this movie isn't flawless and could easily see a respectable upgrade.  The film's ending does make me want to punch it in the face however, that crying Caesar statue is way way way too pretentious and too much.  This film has been beaten down and judged too harshly over the years and I really think its all right and undeserving of that.

NEXT TIME: Seriously, folks.  I've not seen this one since the theater in 2001.  This is going to be interesting.

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