Whereas the first Star Wars trilogy rewrote the sci-fi/fantasy rule-book in a vast number of ways, it is worth remembering that another groundbreaking series of imaginative movies rocked the fabric of the genre and went on to become a cultural phenomenon years before. The Planet Of The Apes (1968) was based on French author of he fantastique Pierre Boulle's novel of evolutionary speculation, Monkey Planet. But whereas Boulle, an resistance fighter and POW during the Second World War, was issuing another condemnation against the behaviour of the human race after already crafting a fictionalised account of his own experiences in the celebrated The Bridge On The River Kwai, Franklin Schaeffer's film adaptation was a uniquely Amercianised take on the savage idiocy of Mankind and the possible repercussions down the line of its warmongering ways. Its blend of adventure, high-concept science fiction and intellectual theorising was revelatory and it was further bolstered by the incredible Academy Award-winning make-up designs of John Chambers, the innovative, avant-garde score from Jerry Goldsmith and the presence of one of Hollywood's most iconic actors - Charlton Heston in the leading role of a US astronaut relocated in time and confronted with the earth-shattering destiny of his own insane species. With its future-shock narrative of mute humans hunted for sport and subjugated by a society of intelligent apes who use for them mainly for experiments, stuffed museum pieces or as idle playthings, and of one man's struggle to make sense of such a topsy-turvy world, Planet Of The Apes captured the imagination of audiences all over the globe and the film became a smash-hit. 20th Century Fox knew a good thing when they saw it and sequels swiftly followed, further exploring the mind-boggling conundrums posed by one of the genre's most enduring conceits - time travel and the paradoxes that it creates - and the public's growing fascination with these talking apes. A cartoon show and a live-action TV series were also trundled out, as well as comic-books, action figures and spin-off novels in a merchandising cavalcade that actually predated George Lucas' Empirical cash-cow and possibly set the trend for such mass franchise/product association as a self-perpetuating medium unto itself.
Strangely enough, despite this immense movie-making machine and the massive success of the films and their unparalleled appeal amongst genre fans, writers and critics, the Apes series seems to have fallen out of favour in recent years. There have been numerous incarnations of the films on tape and disc, of course, but for some reason the new generation have not fully discovered their inventive flair, race issue-probing zeal and desire to hold a mirror up to ourselves and the social environments that we have created. Possibly the one shot in the arm that the grandfatherly series could have done with, also proved to be another nail in its coffin. I'm talking, of course, about Tim Burton's ill-conceived and ill-fated remake, or re-imagining as he liked to call it at the time, of the original film, that blundered onto screens in 2001. A travesty on nearly all counts, this big budget mistake did the original series no favours whatsoever. But now, with the full roster of this lauded run of debate-provoking films finding a lavish new home in this gorgeous Blu-ray boxset, it is high time that we took a look at just how well this barnstorming, influential and incredibly entertaining cult cycle stands up today.
Five films comprise the full set, with the last two in the series - Conquest Of and Battle For The Planet Of The Apes - both appearing with their theatrical and extended, unrated versions. Starting with Planet Of The Apes, we find that mankind has devolved due to apathy and the effects of a nuclear holocaust and allowed the primates to rise up and assume dominance. With his space-capsule hurled through a time-warp, Heston's inter-galactic cynic Taylor is forced to co-operate with a career-defining Roddy McDowell and Kim Hunter as liberal-minded chimpanzee scientists and archaeologists Cornelius and Zira, whilst enduring the taunting and the tortures of the unreasonable and thuggish gorilla soldiers and the conscience-less machinations of the supposedly sage orang-utans who hold sway over the planet's simian populations - fashioning their own heretical religion and forging their own myths and histories to blanket out the involvement of homo-sapiens altogether under the guarded wisdom of the forever frightened and watchful Dr. Zaius (an awesome performance from Maurice Evans). Heston's grumbling, anti-social seeker is a star-man who undertook the mission into deep space simply because he could no longer stand the company of his fellow man. “Somewhere in the universe, there has to be something ... better than man,” he opines to one of his doomed team-mates and, in saying so, Taylor becomes the first and most authentic of Hollywood's disenfranchised anti-heroes. Gone is the wonder and the trained and dependable stoicism, the patriotic and selfless adventurer of yesteryear - from H. Rider Haggard's travellers in She, Buster Crabbe's Flash Gordon, Leslie Nielson's stiff-chinned Commander J. J. Adams in Forbidden Planet and just about any other pre-Apes explorer - his once staunchly optimistic fervour lost and swallowed up by disillusionment and the desire merely to escape the lunacy and banality of a world constantly at war with itself. Taylor, intellectual but not existential, is certainly not the everyman that the genre loves to pitch into the unknown. With a career stuffed with Biblical and historical heavyweights behind him, Heston may have looked heroic - stripped, tanned and buffed-up - but he was determinedly playing against type to make Taylor a bit of a strange conduit with which to guide the audience through this hairy new world. Forgetting Tim Burton's revamp altogether, with wooden cipher Mark Wahlberg in the main role, you could imagine a Steven Spielbergian archetypal male lead essaying Taylor as a wonder-filled heroic type - and that would probaly work too, although without any of the resonance that Heston's world-weary and, crucially world-despising spaceman brings to the part. His dejected air of anger and frustration was borne from out of an era that had had time to reflect upon two world wars and the ever-present threat of nuclear Armageddon. Heston's Taylor is figure of turmoil and rage and, as such, he is curiously unlikeable, even though we stand firm beside him through thick and thin.
His memorable trial - having to plead his own intelligence with apes who, in the famous image, see, hear and speak no evil - is legendary in the genre, but of course it actually mimics the McCarthyist witch-hunting that America had been degrading itself with, tuning the film, and its audience into political observation disguised as escapist entertainment. With social and racial commentary scorching through the screenplay (adapted several times by The Twilight Zone's own Rod Serling, but vastly reworked by English poet/author Paul Dehn, who would become synonymous with the series as a scribe and narrative mentor) as well, the movie could have been viewed as a ticking time bomb, primed to smack the establishment right in the face with its arrogant and brazen wake-up call.
That it would change the face of science fiction and herald a more serious approach to the genre is, perhaps, a lucky side-effect.
“You know what they say - human see, human do ...”
The first act - three lost and bewildered astronauts traipsing across the blighted barren landscape of an Earth they simply cannot recognise (actually the fantastic environs of Utah, Arizona and Mexico) and encountering ghastly scarecrows, nebulous electrical storms and the eerie vision of a primitive race of people - is simply stunning. But once the infamous gorilla horn call kick-starts the hunt - a still vicious and visually gripping set-piece of heart-stopping chaos and terror - the movie physically becomes a classic right before your very eyes. With Jerry Goldsmith's Oscar-nominated score - rattling wooden percussion, furious piano figures, jagged trumpets and violent string and brass chords perfectly capturing the savagery and alien menace of this crazy world - riding over the top with dense, voracious primal frenzy, much of the imagery that it illustrates has gone on to become such iconic slabs of almost monolithic stature that the film is practically a catalogue of the 20th Century turning point of Cinema. A row of dead humans hanging upside down as their gorilla killers take trophy photos of themselves standing proudly amidst the carnage. A lobotomised astronaut made to look like the primitive savage his ancestors once were - millennia ago. Dr. Zaius surreptitiously scrubbing away the words that Taylor has written in the sand to prove his intelligence. The baby human doll that is discovered beneath the earliest Ape fossils and the simply delicious discovery that, at the pull of a cord, it actually speaks! And, of course, possibly the single most immortal image from this, or indeed, any sci-fi motion picture - that of an emotionally crippled Charlton Heston, on his knees and ranting his fury at the very race of people he'd thought he'd left behind for good, in the lee of the half-buried and long-ruined Statue Of Liberty. The jolt of this infamous shock climax is something that many of us can only speculate upon, having not been around for the film's theatrical debut. But you can imagine audiences reeling out of the cinema in stunned silence at the sheer audacity of such a powerful and painful revelation.
The impact of such a finale is like the most beautiful bridge between the past, the present and the future all rolled into one apocryphal shot. An intelligent and highly skilled man reduced to virtual barbarism before the symbol of his own long-dead civilisation. Only the fact that Linda Harrison's beautiful and loyal native girl, Nova, is beside him, blissfully uncomprehending of the importance of such an electrifying reunion, provides any shred of hope in this “bloody madhouse!”
“I don't say that all humans are evil just because their skin is white - no! But our great Lawgiver tells us that never, never will the human have the Ape's divine faculty for being able to determine good from evil. The only good human - is a dead human!”
The immediate sequel, Beneath The Planet Of Apes, allows us to see what has become of Taylor, though his fall from grace is an even more punishing poke in the eye from a marvellously stalwart Heston, who had, by now, totally embraced his new sci-fi persona and was continuing to thunder down a road of increasing nihilistic alter-egos - The Omega Man's Robert Neville and Soylent Green's detective Thorn completing his celebrated trio of genre champions. But director Ted (Hang 'em High) Post and screenwriter Paul Dehn were keen to keep the ideal, the look and feel and the flavour of the first movie whist adding a lot more action and an even more truly apocalyptic plot-line. Once again, the film is angry and performs celluloid allegory to America's despised involvement in Vietnam. When a gorilla army, led by James Gregory's terrific General Ursus - a progenitor of the TV series' resident baddie, General Urko - marches out into the Forbidden Zone, an order of telepathic mutants led by a crazed Taylor find that solace may lie within the welcoming radioactive cloud of their God, the Doomsday Weapon - a nuclear warhead installed and revered deep underneath the ground in their wrecked and ruined sanctuary. But into this large-scale maelstrom comes James Franciscus as Brent, another Earth astronaut who has been along the same flight-path as Taylor in order to discover what happened to the previous expedition, and who will also undergo the same wide-eyed realisation and reactionary horror at the ape-imbalance he finds. The film's first half is more or less a retread of the original film, Brent makes acquaintances with Cornelius and Zira (Hunter returned but with McDowell busy directing a film of his own, David Watson stepped into the costume and mask of Cornelius) and even bumps into Linda Harrison's Nova, whom he convinces to lead him to his old chum Taylor. But there is a great new impetus to the plot that sees the End of the World loom ominously over the barren ridges of the Forbidden Zone even as Dr. Zaius (again played by Maurice Evans) appears to have become less staunch in his dogmatic refusal to deviate from the path of the Lawgiver and appear mightily reluctant to go to war with the denizens they suspect are thriving in what should be their land.
Although Fox had wanted Franklin Schaffner to direct the movie, he had opted to make the landmark war/biography of Patton instead, and he had even taken composer Jerry Goldsmith along with him. Thus, with Post's more linear and less thoughtful approach and an outrageously weird, angular and often perverse new score from the equally distinctive Leonard (Fantastic Voyage) Rosenman, Beneath feels both more immediately accessible and exciting and somehow darker and more dangerous. Heavily allegorising the student animosity towards America's military stance in Vietnam - peacenik chimps stage a sit-in protest in the path of the advancing gorilla army - and upping the action considerably - Brent has a terrific wagon-top brawl with his captor and there are numerous chase sequences - Beneath actually decides to have its cake and eat it too. Providing plenty for the grey cells to chew on with its build-up to holocaust and finding ample societal parallels to play off, the film, like its predecessor, waggled an accusatory finger at the world. Otherworldly and, indeed, often nightmarish imagery came courtesy of the legion of telepathic mutants, whose first line of defence in their monastic worship of the Alpha-Omega bomb is to conjure up vivid hallucinations to counter any trespassers into the Forbidden Zone. The visions of crucified ape soldiers on fire and the great statue of the Lawgiver dripping with blood were gut-punching surreal touches, and the incendiary mutating of the hymn “All Things Bright And Beautiful” into a bizarre mass for the bomb is a particular highlight that represents another bold statement in the Apes series. The mutants, including the fabulous Victor Buono (Batman's King Tut and the resident villain in TV's The Man From Atlantis), removing their masks to reveal horrific, vein-exposed irradiated flesh was another memorable touch, as was the gleefully barbaric antics seen in the army trainng camp, with humans used as target practice for lassos and net-wielding gorilla shock-troops.
Strangely enough considering that, at this stage in the game, there was still a fair bit in the budget, the level of mask-making had dropped a clear notch or two. Whilst the next film, Escape From The Planet Of The Apes, would be able to concentrate on just a couple of ape make-ups, Beneath required an army of gorillas, hordes of mouthy chimps and a roster of reflective orang-utans. But, besides the main characters, there is an appalling number of obviously rigid, off-the-peg masks on show, particularly during the open-air council meeting with rows of simply naff ape-faces - stuck with immobile expressions and dumb open mouths - seated about the amphitheatre. But the film is a worthy sequel to a classic that many doubted warranted such a continuation in the first place. And, as Beneath so capably shows us, the Apes movies had many more surprises up their furry sleeves.
With the world ending in symbolic flame and destruction, there was nowhere logical for the Apes writer to take the series to other back in time. Thus, 1970 saw the camp, kitsch and somewhat ill-fitting Escape From The Planet Of The Apes splash across the screen in a gaudy, comical farce of simian celebrity as three apes make the journey back to modern-day Earth - well, what was modern-day back then anyway - when Taylor's bomb blows them through that pesky time-warp ... the other way. Dehn's screenplay, this time out, opts not for adventure but rather with misplaced, fish-out-water scenarios as Cornelius and Zira (the winning double-act of McDowell and Hunter again) blunder their way through a world that they had never even contemplated existed before Chuck Heston's bedraggled, throat-clutching catalyst entered their once-cosy lives. Of course, beyond the high society popularity that they attain, the senseless fears of a paranoid government soon encircle the happy couple, who have now had a baby, and the furry family are forced to go on the run. Once again, Mankind is revealed to be cruel, heartless and closed-minded and helicopters and gun-men hunt down the visiting apes with orders to kill them. That the film ends tragically was something of a bombshell at the time, although this should really not have been all that unexpected considering that the series was making a habit of doing the unthinkable and pulling the rug from under the audience's feet by the close of play. But whilst Dehn's screenplay abruptly and shockingly swept aside the sit-com antics and doting love story that had gone before, it also cleverly set up the next episode by giving Ape-lovers a terrific little final twist.
I'm not a huge fan of this particular entry in the series, but there is no mistaking the fact that it has a definite place within it, even if it does seem to depart in look and tone from what we had, by now, come to expect and to love from the franchise. It brazenly twists the strangers in a strange land ethic that had gone before, so that now we are siding with characters who will inherit the Earth whilst they bumble in bewilderment through our own society. The script has many knowing winks to the tide of the times, though. When asked if he, too, can speak, Cornelius wryly responds, “Only when she lets me,” indicating that marital life and customs for apes really aren't that different from our own. We even get to meet the Dr. Hasslein that Taylor name-dropped in the first film and get to see his dark side. But Eric Braedon, who plays him, does a fine job of downscaling and even humanising his villainy. We understand his fears regarding the ramifications of talking apes and their offspring and even come to sympathise with his premonitions whilst still becoming angered by his methods. Ricardo (forever Star Trek's Khan) Montalban appears as the kindly circus owner, Armando, who offers a chance of salvation for this new Ape breed, but his character would be greatly expanded upon in the next film. Escape, directed with brisk efficiency by Don Taylor and once again scored by a somewhat reluctant Jerry Goldsmith for what would be his last contribution to the series (with a much more conventional action score than his inventive music for the original) is far from being a novelty addition to the run and actually has a lot to say about acceptance, feminism and relationships. And, it should be stated that my own personal lack of love for it in no way reflects upon the quality of what is, in actual fact, another very worthy sequel that, again, takes the original premise and delivers it with a grand spin, capturing the mood of the era and bouncing it back with some heady sci-fi solutions.
“Tonight, we have seen the birth of the Planet Of The Apes!”
J. Lee Thompson's 1972 entry, Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes, follows-on eighteen years after the events of Escape. The little talking ape - renamed Caesar from his original Milo, but still played by ape-supremo Roddy McDowell - has now grown up and, still in the service and protection of Armando (Montalban) and his circus, is keen to see the world that he has been sheltered from. We now get to see how desperate and uncaring our own race has become in the wake of the bizarre, cosmic plague that has wiped out every dog and cat on the planet, leaving mankind in a state of quasi-global mourning. Apes have now evolved into a vast race of menial slaves for the increasingly sterile, monochromatic population who merely exist in corporate havens of glass and concrete, the freshly built Century City business complex developed on a former Fox backlot stands in very effectively for the featureless, charisma-starved environs of offices, towers and plazas in which Gestapo-influenced Governor Breck (a fabulously over-the-top Don Murray) rules with an agitated and wary air of self-loathing and perpetual fear. Breck knows the implications of an ape revolt and when Caesar's reflexively and very publicly shouts his rage at the cruelty he sees being inflicted upon a poor gorilla, events are set in motion that will be both profoundly tragic on a personal level and civilisation-toppling on a more devastating one when he trains and leads a savage revolt against the vicious human caste system.
Thompson (who wasn't at all averse to rocking the status quo with films like the original Cape Fear to his credit) agreed with Paul Dehn, who was a renowned “anarchist-poet” rabble-rouser that the movie should echo the feelings of resentment on the streets. With America shuddering in fear at the recent Watts race riots in LA and elsewhere, it seemed only right to mirror their dramatic effects with an on-screen parable, using the downtrodden apes to stand in for the oppressed black population and with Breck and his jackbooted henchmen representative of the barely concealed fascist leanings that many believed America's police state was heading towards. Thompson had also made the war-time epic The Guns Of Navarone, so he was also determined to create some wild scenes of battle and urban carnage with a sort of documentary-style aided enormously by Bruce Surtees' moody cinematography.
“Then why do you hate us?”
“Because when we look at you, we're looking at the dark side of ourselves ...”
Conquest is a film that I have always loved. My infatuation with it goes back a very long way to a time when I was about seven or eight and, at a friend's birthday party, the entertainer hired to amuse all of us little monkeys actually showed us cine-reels from a projector. As well as clips of Darth Vader hauling the rebel commander off his feet and crunching his neck, and a transformation and a couple of murders from Sam Katzman's The Werewolf, he also presented to us - wholly out of context, you understand - the notorious scene from Conquest when poor Caesar is strapped to a table and electrocuted almost to the point of death, before rising up and throttling the switch-throwing guard with bestial rage. This, coupled with sundry shots of rampaging apes pouncing on riot police and beating them with clubs and hurling bodies through plate-glass windows, understandably had a profound effect upon me. I vowed that I would see this (and The Werewolf) in full and although these clips, other than those from Star Wars, which we'd all seen already, had given completely the wrong impression of the films they came from, they certainly fostered within me an obsessive devotion for films.
Thus, Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes is very dear to me.
It is not a great film, of course. Many even decry it as being pretty lousy, but its relentlessly grim tone is something that was unique to early 70's science fiction. By now, the golden dream of crystalline future realms and the Brave New World ethics were deemed totally untrue and no more than shams. If we couldn't control the world of today - and tensions and strife were only escalating exponentially at the time - what possible remedy would tomorrow bring? Even the likes of Michael Anderson's take on Logan's Run (1976) revealed the hopes and dreams of a dreaming generation to be dangerously false. Ironically, it was the all-out galactic conflict of that other fantastical film from 1976, a little project called Star Wars, that rekindled optimism for a brighter, more exciting future.
With a lengthy final act that details the apes rising up and sticking-it-to-the-Man with frightening mob-rule, the film was always going to be controversial. Test audiences in Phoenix actually fled the cinema when showed its original, more violent cut - this was not exactly what they'd expected from a new Apes movies, re-opening the wounds of segregation so explicitly. The initial backlash from these previews was such that Thompson and Fox were compelled to recut their movie, softening some of the grimmer elements and even completely reworking the crucial ultimate scene. Now, finally, after all these years, this boxset gives you the option of seeing the original and darker, less-charitable version ... and even though the futile, angry mood of the piece still prevails whichever cut you opt for (both the unrated and the theatrical editions are on offer here for the first time ever), the original film contains more blood, more violence - some horrible bullet-in-the-face executions, stomped bodies and an entire flame-throwing immolation that has eluded film-goers for thirty-five years now. But it is the ending that provides the real jolt. It doesn't matter how used to the climax of the more familiar version you are, you instinctively know that it is wrong. A wimp-out. Well, here you go, folks - this is what you've been waiting for. This is the denouement that fits the film and is, in all honesty, the only logical conclusion it could have. Fantastic stuff - gruesome, poetic and brilliantly evocative. The double-edged sword of our own “personal” pleasure at seeing some mightily deserved retribution as well as the perverse realisation that we are witnessing the end of ... ourselves.
To think that Thompson's film has been so easily dismissed by film critics over the years is utterly shameful. Although nowhere near as accomplished, Conquest is the Apes' equivalent to Platoon - soul-searingly revealing, brutally damning, inditive and polarising. You could also call it Spartacus with fur and, once again, the analogy is spot-on. McDowell gives another mesmerising performance - perfecting that spitting hiss and cheek-ballooning display of rage and bolstering it with ferocious sermons of inspirational revolution. He also exhibits terrific pain and sadness which, from behind that magnificent mask, is no small feat. The score from early jazz-fusion pioneer Tom Scott may not reach the giddy heights of unearthly exhilaration that Goldmsith or Rosenman bestowed the series, but it is driving, powerful and resonant, nonetheless. A scene towards the end of the unrated version, when Caesar's mob is breaking into Governor Breck's headquarters, features Scott's original scoring and it certainly provides a more powerful and exciting tone than the tracked-in edits of prior Goldsmith moments that the theatrical cut hammered-in.
“Now! Fight like Apes!”
The series went out with not so much a whimper but more of a half-hearted roar. It is common for fans and critics to revere Thompson's second Ape-helming, Battle For The Planet Of The Apes (1973), far less than any of the others in the series. I, myself, have often broadly lambasted it as a lacklustre finale and derided its lack of budget and ambition - but, and this is crucial, I, along with many others, have been saying such things from the extreme distance of not actually having seen the movie for a very, very long time. In fact, before viewing it again here in its extended cut on BD, the last time I saw the film from start to finish was when I was a kid watching it on TV one Christmas. Thus, when you return to it now, viewing it with fresh eyes and especially following on from Conquest, I think that you may discover, very pleasantly, that Battle is actually a very entertaining and morally challenging episode that can more than hold its hairy head up alongside the likes of Escape and its immediate forebear. Sure the budget had been savagely cut back, but barring a few clumsy shots regurgitated in the editing suite, the film is inventive, stylish, action-packed and downright enjoyable. The seams do show with the script from husband and wife team of Joyce and John Carrington, who would also pen The Omega Man (oh let's not get started on that again, eh ... we'll be here all tomorrow as well!), making the conflict between Caesar's motley tribe of apes and humans in their comparative Garden of Eden and a blighted army of fungus-faced mutant survivors from the old, nuked-out remains of the city of men a much lesser tale of apocalyptic morality-chasing than, perhaps, it should have been.
With regular screenwriter Paul Dehn too ill to fully take this instalment by the horns (his early, and more sadistic drafts were extensively reworked by the Corringtons, and Dehn, who actually returned to clean up their treatment, sadly, passed away not long after the film was released), the ideas that went into Battle don't seems as fully realised, nor quite as dramatic as they could have been. Dedicating its main and most emotional thrust in the direction of a Kane And Abel style story of fatherly rage and the antagonism between Caesar and another in a long line of fascist brute gorilla generals, this time Western-veteran Claude Akin's General Aldo, Battle packs a lot more incident and trauma than I'll bet many people actually remember it as having. It may lack the funds for some essential hardware come the eventual explosive showdown between apes and muties, and the one shot of a tree-house blowing-up may be shown at least three times too often, but Battle benefits from some great matte shots of the old human city - all spiky spires of decrepit steel and mangled chunks of masonry amid the radiated wasteland of the civilisation-reclaiming sands of time - fine cinematography from Richard Kline and more action-skewed direction from Thompson, who realises that this is the end of the cinematic line, but seems keen to hurl some wild imagery into the final instalment. Two scout gorillas fending off the approach of the mutant army - a lacklustre assortment of school-bus, army jeeps and a couple of motorbikes that seems able to replicate its own convoy during the final attack - and facing-off against a mobile-mounted canon; the nasty devotion to the cause of Aldo, who commits the ultimate simian crime of killing another ape, but also delivers a terrific human-massacre as well via machine-gun and grenades; the actual sight of apes swinging from trees in play as well as combat; and the symbolic vision of Caesar 's own statue weeping.
“Ape should not kill ape!”
With Assault On Precinct 13's Austin Stoker taking over the role of the surviving MacDonald (Governor Breck's aide, first played by Hari Rhodes) from Conquest's rebellion there is a nice level of continuation - something more emphasised and free-flowing here than that evidenced between any of the other entries in the series which hopped-about in time and shifted tonal emphasis with wild abandon. Here, the desire from Thompson is to create a pure comic-book on the screen and the film, even in its slightly extended form (this release sports both the theatrical and longer original cuts of the film, the longer one restoring scenes of the mutants and their Alpha-Omega bomb) is fast and cheerfully episodic. An amusing thing is that Caesar's aide, an orang-utan called Virgil (perhaps tipping the nod to a character in the fast-approaching TV show spin-off that had scuttled a chunk of Battle's budget) is played by cherubic 70's hair-head, Paul Williams - the laugh being that he actually looks exactly the same without the mask! And somehow or other, they even managed to persuade John Huston to don latex and fur and play the Lawgiver whose educational spoutings bookend the movie.
Overall, despite many permutations and the author's own dislike of certain imagery crafted from his notions, the Planet Of The Apes films take Pierre Boulle's original concept and not only run with it but maintain its essence with style, wit, intelligence and all the pent-up anger that only such surrounding turbulent real-life times could bestow. Apart from Rambo, what other series of movies evoke the eras in which they were made with such naked aggression and stark sincerity? In terms of sci-fi, the Apes play into the dormant darkness and primal factioning that humankind finds unable to shake off. Allegorically-speaking, from Escape onwards, the films go down a far different path from that evoked in the first two entries, Planet Of The Apes especially. The original remains a pop-cultural phenomenon and a film that is exhilarating, wondrous and cerebrally challenging, both a ground-breaking achievement and a high-water mark for the entire genre for years to come in terms of technical expertise and compelling narrative. Beneath The Planet Of The Apes was an audacious follow-on - partly playing it safe with crowd-pleasing rehashing of the first one's novel adventure and then boldly subverting the concept with that glorious early seventies nihilism. Escape was a come-down, certainly, but an amusing-yet-tragic one that managed to rise above its own uneven tone with a tale purpose-built to bleed into another, altogether more raw and uncompromising instalment. Battle may not have been the best way to end such a triumphant run of movies, but perhaps it was still appropriate in many ways. Heston may still be the figurehead of the series, but McDowell is the foundation-stone and the linchpin that holds it all together. Unable, and possibly reluctant to shake off the role, he would even portray the friendly chimp Galen for the two seasons of the TV show, that imitable voice and convincing gait/shuffle becoming a surprising trademark for someone who was actually an incredibly versatile actor.
An awesome collection of movies that provide a time-capsule to an era that was tearing itself apart, but whose message and value to the genre reaches ever onwards. Whilst the original warrants an inarguable 10 out of 10, the sequels inevitably drop down lower, bringing the overall score back to a 9 overall. Whatever your opinions regarding the other films in the series, you cannot deny that each one attempted something different with the same basic material and that they all delivered messages that went beyond mere escapist fantasy. There are not many franchises that can say the same.
Classics - pure and simple. Endlessly thought-provoking and still immense fun even today.
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