Thursday, July 27, 2017
RECENT WATCHES: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” followed the next year, picking up where the last one left off. Veteran action filmmaker J. Lee Thompson, who nearly directed the first film, would put his stamp on the “Apes” universe with this one. The film would prove to be one of the more controversial entries in the series, being more violent and politically volatile than any of the previous “Apes” adventures.
In the early 1980s, a strange plague has killed off all the cats and dogs in the world. Apes would take their place as the common household pets. Soon afterwards, the population of the world realized apes could be trained to do complex tasks. Some time after that, America is overtaken by a militaristic police state. Now, it's 1991 and Cornelius and Zira's son has come of age. Naming himself Caesar, he is sold into slavery and witnesses, first hand, the cruelty apes face from humans. The time for revolution is at hand. Caesar leads a bloody uprising against the humans, apes rising up to attack their oppressors.
Caesar is a believable character. Less so is the world “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” inhabits. America's transformation into a police state is left unexplained. The entire film is set in a sterile city, composed of straight-lined, modern architecture. Jackbooted officers in black leather watch every street. There's odd future technology, like invisible force fields or a glowing light that can force people to tell the truth. The idea that apes would evolve from pets to a disposable workplace within twenty years strains plausibility. Most unbelievable is the film's villain. Governor Breck is a cartoonish evil dictator, all of his dialogue relating to how inferior the apes are. It doesn't help that Don Murray barks every line in an authoritative tizzy. It's odd that the series' version of 1991 seems far less plausible than its version of 3159.
The unrated version includes even more intense violence. There are graphic close-ups and apes and humans being shot. One especially grim scene shows the apes piling up dead guards, each one with their throat slit. J. Lee Thompson's direction is intense and frenzied, making these sequences feel especially vicious.
The social commentary inherent in the “Apes” franchise reaches a boiling point in “Conquest.” Caesar, along with countless other apes, are sold at auction. They are paraded before a crowd, touted for their obedience. Eventually, someone buys them and puts them to work in their house. Does this remind you of anything? The film runs with this parallel between the oppressed apes with slavery and black revolution. The scenes of apes rioting were directly patterned after the Watts Riots. The guards, who beat protesters with truncheons, also bring the civil rights movement to mind. It's an interesting but uncomfortable choice, due to the tradition of racists comparing black people to apes. That the film casts a black man as one of the humans that help Caesar, but still in a somewhat patronizing manner, makes this barely subtext even more awkward.
poor test screenings, who demanded a less brutal conclusion, I guess. It was hastily assembled, using-dubbed over dialogue and pre-existing footage. The theatrical ending runs against everything the rest of the film was attempting to accomplish. The original ending, finally restored, is obviously superior.
“Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” is, in some ways, one of the most audacious films in the series. The film's embrace of a racial subtext is daring. It's sequences of brutal violence are bracing. The conclusion, as originally intended, is impressively bleak. Yet other factors hold “Conquest” back. Such as the odd setting, slightly unbelievable story, and preposterous re-cut ending. The result is a decent film that will never be my favorite trip to the Planet of the Apes. [7/10]