Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972): A Good Idea Poorly Executed

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

“Conquest of the Planet of the Apes,” has a great premise. It is the rise of Caesar the revolutionary who creates the City of the Apes we saw in the first two films. We get to see the basis of why he and the apes rebelled, which gives a great chance to explore the reasons behind revolution. Sadly, the execution is not nearly as good as it could have been.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: Caesar – Caesar or Milo son of Cornelius and Zira (and played by Roddy McDowall who played Cornelius, does a great job! The problem is we don’t see a gradual change. We see him witness the enslavement of the apes after the disease Milo, Cornelius or Zira brought back kills them all. He is great as a character though and his interaction with Ricardo Montalban’s Armando is fantastic. Armando is his hope for humanity so when the Police State that has arisen kills him he snaps. Sadly he is the only ape who is any sort of character…the rest are just masses without any unique characterization or individuals among them. He eventually goes power mad though and shows no mercy. He becomes the antagonist by the end (which makes me think he forgot about his friends at the Circus). It is tragic how he forgets about the good humans and becomes as they are by the end. He lays down the rules of the Ape World we see at the beginning (treat humanity with compassion as servants).

Armando – Ricardo Montalban is once again great. I see why he was killed (to motivate Caesar to action), but he was one of the only interesting human characters besides MacDonald.

MacDonald – Played by Hari Rhodes, he is Governer Breck’s (the antagonists) assistant and sympathizes with the apes because of the history of race in America and all it took for African Americans to gain rights and freedom. He is an interesting character who I wish had got more screen time with Caesar. His confrontation at the end is powerful too as he tries to reason with Caesar to seek compromise.

Okay: The Music – Is nothing special and doesn’t elevate the production.

The Revolution – It isn’t bad…but I really wouldn’t call it exciting either. Seeing the apes get weapons is cool…but when they join Caesar all he has to do is look at them…this was poorly done. If people join you they have to connect with you, which usually involves language (“Rise of the Planet of Apes,” did this a lot better).

The Ending – “Tonight we have seen the birth of the Planet of the Apes.” Caesar’s final line after he is reminded to show kindness…ironically he creates the world they were fighting against though with Apes as the new masters and God as the justification. The strongest scene is the “No,” one of the apes says while holding Governor Breck’s dead body which leads to Caesar laying down the premise of Planet of the apes and the new Master and Servant relationship.

Cons: Governor Breck – Is the hammiest of antagonists. He is bad for the sake of being bad. He justified slavery and after was surprised when the slaves rebelled. He was needlessly cruel to everyone around him and was a bigger one note baddie than any villain prior.

The Apes – They aren’t characters just representations of the working class and the powerless. I would have liked to see someone speak for their experiences besides Caesar who was an outsider to their experiences. One does speak at the end after Caesar’s call for humanity’s annihilation with the words, “No.” Which is great. More of this would have been nice.

The length – It is one of the shorter of the films but if feels longer. Especially on scenes where there is Governor Breck or just ape to ape interaction. This is a shame since the Ape characters were always the best thing about this series up to this point.

This film was better than “Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” but not as good as “Escape From…” and “Planet of the Apes,” the Original. It had a lot of good ideas but doesn’t really get them until the end and after it is too late. The ideas should have been captured and expressed earlier. Governor Breck as an antagonist doesn’t help…MacDonald would have been a much better antagonist and keeping Armando alive longer could have helped the story…as well as making the police state more subtle.

I’d check it out if you are curious to see the first Caesar that appeared on screen. Just know you’ll probably watching simply an okay film.

Final score is 7 / 10.

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Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971): The Hope of Ape and Humankind

Escape from the Planet of the Apes

We continue our Planet of the Apes Franchise Retrospect with “Escape from the Planet of the Apes.” “Escape from the Planet of the Apes,” is a lot of fun and actually a really good film. For once we have more than one interesting human character and we have Zira and Cornelius as the primary protagonists! Paul Dehn did a great job writing this film and Don Taylor did great work as his only directing debut in the Original Planet of the Apes Series.

The premise is that Cornelius, Zira and Dr. Milo rebuild Brent’s spaceship and use to travel into the past as Earth is destroyed by Taylor at the end of the last film. They travel back in time to the 1970s. It is here that the humans are confused about what to do with the Apes but eventually they become celebrities before the truth of their world and actions come to light. From here the story unfolds.

Here is the assessment of the film:

The Music – The music is comedic and fantastical initially but later takes on the themes of the past music of Original Planet of the Apes series.

The Premise – It turns the other movie on it’s head and reveals the point of the first movie. We are the apes (though better to the talking chimps initially than they ever were with the exception of Zira and Cornelius…this is mirrored in Stephanie and Lewis…the two kind scientists of this film). The film is also fun which is easy since Zira and Cornelius were already the funnest characters in the franchise thus far and them being in an alien environment was great for jokes and for making a point about us.

Pros: Dr. Milo – He is the third chimp to travel back in time and the one to figure out how to repair and pilot the ship. He is only around for the first third of the film before an angry gorilla kills him but he leaves a mark, having been the unofficial leader of the group.

Zira – This is where we see Zira’s pros and cons more clearly. Her pros are her passion, strength, compassion and intellect. Her cons are her disconnect towards idiot man in the past (the future of where they are currently) and how easily she is manipulated by kindness. She speaks for the rights of women in this at one point, which is very well done. By far my favorite character in the series thus far though.

Cornelius – Cornelius is fantastic in this film. He is a kind and loving partner and is good at reading situations. His biggest con is inability to take insults and have patience. Those things are what lead to the excuse those who want to hunt them need to execute them and their unborn baby.

Stephanie and Lewis – Are great as Cornelius and Zira’s human counterparts in our world. It is their compassion and action that allows for Zira and Cornelius’s legacy to live on…you’ll see what I mean later. They are the only ones who truly look out for them except for their friend Armando.

The President – Well intentioned but ambitious. He is sympathetic to the apes but comes around against them after Zira’s words are used against her and he abuses the trust as well as never fully recognizing them as people. Still a complex character though, his scenes are a lot of fun. William Windom did great.

Dr. Otto – Is the Dr. Zaius of the film. He speaks of preventing the rise of Hitler and destruction of mankind by killing the apes and their child. He is eventually able to convince the President to this course of action as well. He is a great antagonist and it is rewarding when Cornelius kills him (though he manages to kill Zira and the fake Milo in the process). Eric Braedon does a good job.

Armondo – Is a circus leader played by Ricardo Montalbán. This actor has always impressed me (especially in the Original Star Trek Franchise and “The Wrath of Khan”) He played a fantastic Khan and he plays a great hero in this film. In this film he switches babies in order for Milo (later to be Caesar) may live.

Time Travel – Time Travel is a pro in this for a reason. Infinite regression is explained as to why the Chimps know the future (the data on the spaceship) and how the only one who can see the full picture is the one who has come before and is looking back at what has already happened. Otto is a counterpoint to that with his action to prevent the future and end of the Earth. I wonder if everything will come full circle or if like the “Terminator” franchise there will be the option to change the future. We shall see as I keep watching during this retrospect.

The Narrative – Is tight and focused. Zira and Cornelius were two of the best parts of the last two movies and seeing them grow and change their views of themselves (Zira thinking she shouldn’t have done testing on humans after the tests done on them, Cornelius with learning to trust very few (Zira learns this too).

Ethics – Ethics are explored in this film with a hypothetical. Is animal testing wrong if said animals develop the ability to communicate like us and ask the questions we ask? What if we become like the animals in having a much more limited intelligence in regards to asking those questions and civilization. It asks an interesting quandary and does it in a respectful manner in which we learn more about the characters and in doing so our world. The perfect showing and not telling.

The Ending – Zira and Cornelius sacrifice themselves to save their child and from that point we see why Milo their child becomes Caesar. His parents were killed by Xenophobic humanity and failed to see the development apes were going through. This is the seed of the Ape Revolution.

Cons: Prejudice towards the other Apes – We see a distrust and looking down on Gorillas especially but also Orangutans by Zira and Cornelius. We never see any good versions of Gorillas or Orangutans but the whole “Chimpanzees are pacifists,” seems like a cop-out. It is claiming superiority rather than judging the whole. I wish they’d been confronted by this since even though they were bad Zaius and Ursus were at least complex characters.

There really aren’t many cons to this film and it achieves the purpose of the first film. It shows us ourselves through the eyes of apes. Though in the first movie…we were the apes, in this one it is the apes showing our better nature and we overall representing our worst. This movie make me look forward to the final too and is definitely a favorite. Cornelius and Zira can carry a film the way Brent and Nova and Taylor and Nova never could…partially because Zira and Cornelius are flawed but represent our potential and truths of who and what we are. Their deaths meant something and the characters who supported them were more than ideas and archetypes…they were complex characters actually arguing well for an alternative view or fear…Which in turn made the point of the film and the lives of Zira and Cornelius all that much stronger.

I highly recommend this film.

9.5 / 10

escape-from-the-planet-of-the-apes

Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970) – Not Enough Time with the Apes

beneath-the-planet-of-the-apes-movie-poster-1020221553

 

“Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” was the last of the original “Planet of the Apes” series I saw. I remember how much it weirded me out initially and when I heard about the time travel plot of the next movie didn’t have much desire to watch on. Now that time has passed, it is better than what I remember, but still has a lot of problems.

The premise of this movie picks up where the first film left off. Taylor has seen the destroyed Statue of Liberty and that humanity destroyed itself and he and Nova continue deeper into the Forbidden Zone. While they are there Taylor goes missing and a new astronaut named Brent arrives on the planet to find the astronauts who went missing. The story picks up with him as he finds Nova and the story unfolds from there.

Pros: The music – The music is once again great and haunting. It captures the post apocalyptic feel really well.

Zira – Zira is once again one of the strongest characters. The sad thing is we only see her in the middle of the film when she takes in Brent and Nova and helps them escape. She is the one who is idealistic and lives through action. She doesn’t speak up when Cornelius hits her though (which is one of the horrid themes in this film). Great job, once again to Kim Hunter.

Dr. Zaius – Dr. Zaius is once again one of the strongest characters. When he and General Ursus enter the Forbidden Zone, it is he who risks the illusion of the burning and bleeding lawgiver to reveal to the army it is an illusion. Maurice Evans is once again one of the strongest actors.

General Ursus – He is simple but is great in his own way. He is the first named Gorilla to appear in any of the films and is the primary protagonist of this film (Dr. Zaius didn’t want to conquer the Forbidden Zone). He is Xenophobic and and a tyrant showing the dangers of unchecked military power especially when it is backed by religious authority (Dr. Zaius). James Gregory does a great job.

The idea of the Mutants – I think the Mutants in execution weren’t done so well. But they are needlessly evil and crazy. I would have liked at least one good mutant just like we see good apes via the Chimpanzees. The idea of people twisted by Nuclear War and worshiping death is pretty cool though. I think they were trying to critique the worship of death that can happen in some religions, it just wasn’t executed very well.

George Taylor – For what little time he is around, Charlton Heston does a great job. He has a lot more emotion and character than Brent who is a character akin to Nova except he can speak.

Okay: Cornelius – His character is the one once again trying to save face, though still carry on the knowledge of the past. He hits Zira for no reason though and threatens to do so again which is why I will not put him as a pro. It is like needless character assassination to have his character do that.

SPOILERS

The Ending – Everyone dies. This would have been more powerful if we’d had more time with the characters we cared about or Nova and Brent had actually been fleshed out as characters. The Bomb that the mutants worship is used to destroy the Earth.

Cons: The violence against women – I bring this up because it happens a lot in this film. From the mutants using Brent to abuse and rape Nova…to Cornelius hitting Zira. The women are only in this movie to be victims…accumulating in Nova being killed by the apes when the apes invade the Underground.

The Execution of the Themes – The execution of the themes was very poor. I can see them trying to critique religion via the worshipers of the Bomb but no religion worships technology and their words ended up being more comedic than meaningful or critical. “The Holy Fallout.” As an expression for an example. They also could have used how religion can turn people against one another…but all they manage to capture is the hypocrisy of some religious claiming their religion to be peaceful while condoning or acting with violence. The military as a weapon of corrupt authority is never fully explored either since we don’t know what happened to the Chimp protesters since we never see them after their appearance and Ursus never does anything to Zira or Cornelius even though they are heretics.

No Protagonist and Lack of Focus – There are a few people who drive the plot at different points…Taylor at the beginning and end, and Brent through the middle and Zira at one point too. We also have Dr. Zaius drive it at a few points as well whether for or against Ursus. This lack of focus took away from the narrative of the story.

Brent – Is a cipher. He is an uninteresting hero who is easily used by everyone around him. In that way he is comparable to Nova. The script didn’t help flesh him out as a character (he’s the standard hero looking for the group that had landed on the planet before) but the acting doesn’t help. He’s a very forgettable character.

Nova – Is the victim and empty vessel again. She is kidnapped countless times, strangled and near raped by Brent when is being mind controlled by the mutants and in the end killed by the apes. Victimization is all her character is.

Plot holes – Zira and Cornelius were supposed to be charged with heresy as of the end of the last film. This is never brought up again and instead they are made to be leaders of the Academy when Dr. Zaius joins Ursus’s expedition. This is never explained.

This movie is a bit of an unfocused, at times sexist mess with some really intriguing ideas that it doesn’t give full credit for. It was an okay movie and would have been stronger if more time was spent with the apes. It really goes downhill once we’re with the Mutants since that is where the weakest critique and the most grotesque violence is. The Mutants have no complexity and no Chimpanzee faction which takes away from the critique too. Every group as members that are agnostic or against the philosophy expressed by the dominant group. I would still tentatively recommend this film. It didn’t need to made since “Planet of the Apes,” is a solid film on it’s own…but it has some interesting ideas and the time with the Apes are mostly fantastic. More time with the Apes could have made this a good film.

Next we’ll be doing the 3rd movie in the Original Series in this Planet of the Apes Franchise Retrospect – “Escape from the Planet of the Apes.”

My final score for this film is 6 / 10. Slightly above average.

Planet of the Apes (1968) – We Are the Apes

Planet of the Apes 1968

The Original “Planet of the Apes,” is a movie that I remember a little about going in…I remember the iconic scene at the end and some of the memorable lines voiced by Charlton Heston…but beyond that I could remember very little of the details because it had been so long since I’d originally watched it.

“Planet of the Apes,” was directed by Franklin J. Schaffner and had make-up design by John Chambers who won awards for the design of Spock in Star Trek and for the groundbreaking design of the Apes in this film and franchise.

The premise of the film is that three astronauts crash on Earth, losing the only woman in their crew. They don’t know what planet they have landed on but come to discover the world is dominated by Apes with an advanced social structure and civilization and full of humans who are mute and like small brained animals. George Taylor (Charlton Heston) is the primary protagonist and from whose eyes we see events unfold.

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The World – The world of the “Planet of the Apes,” is fascinating. We see a world with complex social structures (Orangutans as Priests, Lawyers and Judges, Gorillas as workers and military and Chimpanzees as scientists and intellectuals). There is conflict between the chimps and the other social classes as expressed through the Chimpanzee protagonists of Zira and Cornelius.

The Make-up – There is a reason that this make-up was so groundbreaking. The prosthetics show the diversity of the Gorillas, Chimps and Orangutans and when they speak it looks like they are actually speaking. Emotion is seen in their expressions.

Zira and Cornelius – Zira and Cornelius are great. Zira is the idealist who takes chances and risks and in the process finds the truth of who George is. Cornelius is fantastic as well. He begins as fearful because of how he was punished for entering the Forbidden Zone where a past simian species was located. He comes around though as he comes to know George. Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter do amazingly as their characters.

Dr. Zaius – Is the primary protagonist of the film who has some idea of what happened to humanity on this world. He uses religion to suppress free thought and punish heretics who go against the holy book. He is authority corrupt and a complex antagonist which makes him interesting. Maurice Evans does great. His final critique of humanity is perfect (The place where you were was once a paradise, not it is a wasteland…giving us our first hints of the truth of this world).

George Taylor – The anti-authority figure does a great job of fighting the power as represented by Zaius. He is able to build a bridge with Zira and attempts to with Nova…his actions drive the plot. He also sees the truth of his astronaut companions such as one who was seeking immortality as a reason for leaving Earth on the voyage.

The Trial of George Taylor – I really liked the trial scene. We have a tribunal of Orangutans who ignore every claim put before them. We also see them silence George when he is putting up a good defense. It is the perfect corrupt trial and we see later that it was all a ploy to get Zira and Cornelius charged with heresy and to find out where George’s tribe is in order to exterminate them.

The Reveal and Ending- The Planet of the Apes is Earth. We destroyed ourselves with Nuclear Weapons and war leading to the rise of our ape brethren. It is brilliant and desolate and a great warning about the future. Fact is another movie didn’t need to be made after this since the ending is so complete.

We Are the Apes – We are the ones who fear truth and discovery like Dr. Zaius. People in our species wish to suppress thoughts that go against their religious ideology and people are still killed for heresy today and science in the classroom is replaced by myths in some extreme religious settings. This message is profound and warning. In our fear of truth and knowledge and want for power we could destroy ourselves…We create structures where abuse can happen and ideology and can. We are the apes the movie presents as the antagonists except for those who are seeking knowledge and truth.

The Music – I loved the music. It captured the primitive world that Earth had become and gave a sense of discovery and urgency. Jerry Goldsmith did a fantastic job.

Cons: Nova – She is an empty character who is just their to love the protagonist. Here is to hoping she gets development in the other movies. She is a blank slate.

The Crew – The astronaut crew isn’t all that interesting. They are there just to die. (Also the black astronaut dies first). They were never fully fleshed out and seem to represent ideals. None of them receive the development George does.

Lucius – Another example of an idiotic child actor. All he does is whine and say that he’s a rebel. He doesn’t do anything but help Zira and Cornelius and more often than not needs to be rescued. Whenever he is helping he is whining.

The Original “Planet of the Apes,” is a classic for a reason. It provides an excellent critique of some of the problems today as well as some of the problems in the past and even shows us what it sees as the way out…giving it’s desolate ending a bit of bittersweetness. I would definitely call it a favorite film.

My Final Score for this film is 9 / 10. Definitely recommend.

 

 

Planet of the Apes Franchise Retrospect

Planet of the Apes Franchise

 

“Planet of the Apes” the Franchise is a Franchise that stretches back all the way to the novel by Pierre Boulle called “Planet of the Apes,” in English. I tried reading it but the protagonist was so unlikable I had to stop. When I think “Planet of the Apes,” I think of the first movies that inspired the current remakes.

The Franchise began with “Planet of the Apes (1968)” and would have four more films fleshing out the story from there. I have only seen the first one and “Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” as well as the 2001 Tim Burton remake of “Planet of the Apes,” and the new “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” It has been so long since seeing most of those though that this retrospect will be looking at them all with new and fresh eyes…as well as ending the retrospect with watching “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes,” and doing a comparison and rating them all from worst to best. As a lover of sci. fi. I look forward to seeing the different directors’ visions and how different each of the films are.

As I review the films I look forward to hearing your thoughts and what you remember of these films and this franchise. So without further ado, time to visit the Planet of the Apes.