Battle for the Planet of the Apes

July 2, 2016 at 3:53 pm Leave a comment

Battle for the Planet of the Apes is the fifth and final installment of the original Apes movies. I generally don’t take the time to comment on what other people think of the movie, but I will say that this does not feel like a cash grab to milk whatever was left out of the Apes franchise. This was the conclusion of a story arc that began, arguably, with the second movie. Is this movie lacking in scope? Yes. Is it a disappointment as a conclusion to a popular, five part franchise? Yes. Does it look cheap? Yes. Should it be studied in every film school as an incredible achievement in film making? Yes.

With diminished box office returns, each Apes movie was given a lower budget. Battle had a budget of $1.7 million. Even in 1973, that was not a lot of money in film making terms. For that price, they were able to get Roddy MacDowell to come back as Caesar. I don’t know for sure how much money he made on these movies but he was the face of the franchise. Best I can tell, he didn’t hold up the studio for more money, although he could have if he had felt so incline. As disappointing as Battle is, that Roddy MacDowell is in the movie can only be seen as a positive. When you factor in the cost of film, the crew, and all of the other things that go into making a movie, they still had enough to film a battle. It wasn’t on the level of Battle for Helms Deep, but that there is a battle scene in this movie, considering the budget, is quite amazing. They put a lot into making this movie as good as it is, even though it is not as good as you would hoped it would be.

We start off getting a history lesson from the Lawgiver. He only appears in the beginning and end of the movie but the story is being told by him, although he provides no narration. Following the Nuclear War that cripples humanity, Caesar has taken control as a somewhat benevolent dictator. He is attempting to cultivate a peaceful coexistence between humans and apes, although he mistrusts and resents the humans. All of the apes can talk now, a giant leap forward in evolution compared to where they were at in the previous film. A gorilla named Aldo, played by Claude Akins, doesn’t agree with Caesar’s treatment of the humans and quietly forms a rebellion. Aldo wants to wipe the humans out completely, seeing them as a threat. I believe that Aldo was referred to as the leader of the ape rebellion against humans in Escape so clearly history has changed. Caesar wishes he had known his parents. His assistant, MacDonald, suggests that the film of their testimony might still be in the bombed out remains of the city. This MacDonald is the same actor as the previous movie, the assistant of the Governor whom was sympathetic to the apes, but he is actually the brother of that MacDonald. Even though he acts the same way he did in the previous movie. I don’t know why they didn’t just have him be the same character. They consult the young, wise orangutan named Virgil, played by Paul Williams. I love this character. He has a child-like innocent while also being the smartest guy in the room. He is curious to see what is in the remains of the city, although they shouldn’t stay there for long because of the radiation.

While roaming the city, the apes are noticed by the surviving humans. These are the people who will one day become the Church of the Bomb. The new governor is Kolp, who was on the governors team in the previous movie. Some scouts find the ape city and these humans decide to go to war partly out of boredom and partly out of the threats made in the past by Cornelius that apes will rule the planet.

Meanwhile, Aldo is making his plans to take over ape society. Caesar’s son overhears this and is killed by Aldo as a result. This is a violation of the apes most sacred law, ape shall never kill ape. Caesar sits by his sons bed until the moment he dies. During that time, Aldo begins to take over. He raids the armory, which is another violation of ape law. The ape city humans have all been locked up and under the threat of death. Kolp’s force is on the march. Aldo is losing ground. Caesar moves in and takes command. By retreating, Caesar lures the human force in. . Caesar springs an attack on Kolp and sends them into retreat. Aldo mercilessly slaughters the retreating human troops. Back in the bombed city, Kolp’s assistant is waiting word from him. Kolp is kill. Word will never come. She gets ready to launch the Alpha Omega bomb and destroy the planet 1500 years ahead of schedule. She gets talked out of it.

After the battle, Caesar discovers that Aldo killed his son. All of ape society turns on Aldo. Caesar chases him up a tree leading to Aldo falling to his death. Ape cities humans are ordered to be released but MacDonald demands equal rights. Caesar reflects on all that has happened and agrees to equality for all. The weapons are put in the armory. They speak of destroying them but they keep the weapons in hopes they will never have to use them again. We return to the Lawgiver teaching humans and apes, in clear contrast to the Lawgivers commandments in the first movie. As we close out, we see a little ape pull a little girls hair. She pushes him back. They have created a better world but not a perfect world.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes should have been a bigger movie. This is the final conflict, built up through four previous movies. This is the big battle for all the marbles and the future of the planet. It doesn’t reach that epic level that the fans really deserved. We have seen that the future has been changed by Caesar but what will the future look like? It could have been so much more epic in scale. But I still love this movie. The film makers, actors, and crew clearly cared about what they were doing and ,in spite of the budget, they made the best movie they could. What I really appreciate is that the actions of this movie made for a better world but not a perfect world. This series was built on social commentary. All too often movies and tv shows will give us the message that the future can be glorious so long as we do exactly what they say. Star Trek is an example of this. In Apes , they tell us that the world isn’t going to be perfect but with some companion for each other, it can be better than Apocalypse.

If you have watched these movies up until this point, you have to see the last one. If you are a film student, you should watch all of these movies. This one will show you just what you can do when the team cares about what they are doing with a low budget. I don’t know that anyone could make a movie like this today with a similar budget adjusted for inflation. I will warn you, if you want to watch these movies, don’t start with the last one. As a stand alone movie, it looks like a low budget film with a preachy message. I feel like this series is worthwhile, even today. This leads to the new series of movies, which I will touch on someday. You will see the love for the old movies in the new movies. I will be the first to admit that the old movies are a product for their time and outdated but they deserved to be loved, warts and all.

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