Sunday, December 01, 2013

Final Chapter In The Apes Saga

With director J. Lee Thompson, star Roddy McDowall, and writer Paul Dehn all reuniting from the superior CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, one could reasonably expect a much better film to result than 1973’s BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES. Perhaps the blame lies with husband-and-wife screenwriters John and Joyce Corrington, who turned Dehn’s story into a working screenplay, though it is reported that Dehn polished the Corringtons’ script, and the couple later disavowed much of the film, including the laughable final shot, which they blamed on Dehn.

Not that Thompson should be let off the hook, because his action scenes, which were so vibrant and nasty in CONQUEST, are pallid this time around. Trying to create an accurate timeline for the APES films is useless, but BATTLE mostly takes place maybe a couple of decades after CONQUEST, during which time the Earth was leveled by nuclear holocaust. Caesar (McDowall) leads a peaceful mixed community of apes and humans, but their communal way of life is threatened from within and without. Not only are General Aldo (Claude Akins) and his gorilla army plotting to overthrow Caesar, but also planning an attack is Governor Kolp (Severn Darden), who leads a race of post-nuke mutants left alive to forage beneath the ruins of the Forbidden City.

As opposed to the intelligent metaphor on race relations that Thompson and Dehn crafted in CONQUEST, this fifth APES film seems made for children with an overabundance of melodrama and simplified characterizations. Although McDowall is fine (if maybe somewhat bored) as Caesar and Austin Stoker (ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13) acts with authority as MacDonald (the brother of Hari Rhodes’ CONQUEST character), the acting is a mixed bag with Lew Ayres providing humor and warmth as the keeper of Ape City’s arms and Akins struggling with an underwritten one-note character. Darden and the other mutants are left with less than one note to play and mouthfuls of pompous dialogue.

Faced with underwhelming box office and probably little idea of where to take the series next, Fox turned to television, spinning off McDowall in a team-up with humans Ron Harper and James Naughton in the PLANET OF THE APES series, which only lasted thirteen weeks. Leonard Rosenman provides BATTLE with a serviceable score, and France Nuyen, Noah Keen, Richard Eastham, Bobby Porter, and Paul Stevens co-star.

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