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Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Writers: Paul Dehn
The fan-favorite film of the entire POTA franchise is set in a near future world in which apes have become slaves to humans and exude limited intelligence, though they are still not capable of speech. The son of Cornelius and Zira, Caesar (played by Roddy McDowall, who previously played Cornelius) has survived and witnesses the mistreatment of apes, ultimately leading them toward revolution.
Pros: Solid science fiction and political undertones, just like in the first film. Lots of action, fantastic acting from Roddy McDowall, who brings Caesar to life in a compelling, unforgettable way that feels entirely different from his father, Cornelius (also played by McDowall). The underlying message, critiquing slavery and segregation in an age in which racial hostilities were arguably more potent than ever, was the most controversial and powerful one yet.
Cons: None really, aside from the numerous glitches in this film.
Armando explains in this film that a virus brought back from space caused the death of all housepets, ultimately resulting in apes being brought into domestic situations and gradually taking on the roles of servants. James Whitmore, in his “Outlines of Tomorrow” article in POTA (vol. 1) #11, will make the argument that this virus also caused the accelerated evolution of apes and potentially the gradual de-evolution of humans. This explanation has been largely accepted by POTA fans.
It’s also worth noting that a chimp named “Aldo” briefly appears in this film, though the script called for him to be a Gorilla. In the film adaptation in POTA (vol. 1) #17, Alfredo Alcala appears to draw “Aldo” correctly as a gorilla.
Finally, this film was originally supposed to end with Caesar deciding to build a civilization in which apes dominate humans, thus creating the civilization we saw in the first film. However, negative test-audience reactions (remember the racial parallels here) resulted in the final lines of dialogue being inserted at the end in which Caesar tempers hi attitude and decides the two species should co-exist. Doug Moench’s adaptation of the film in POTA (vol. 1) #21 leaves the original speech intact, as does the recent Blu Ray release of the film.
Glitches: How did the apes suddenly become so much more evolved only twenty years into the future, and why isn’t this change at least acknowledged? What are the consequences of Caesar starting the ape revolution so much sooner than it was supposed to be? In changing the events of the past so drastically, isn’t he throwing a giant monkey wrench into the events of the future, altering things to the extent that he probably never would have been born in the first place?
Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)
Director: J. Lee Thompson
Writers: John William Corrington, Joyce Hooper Corrington, and Paul Dehn
Though largely dismissed for its low budget and lack of political subtext, this is a powerful film in which Caeser struggles to establish his ideal society in a newly post-apocalyptic world, while the gorilla militia led by Aldo (Claude Atkins) attempts to usurp power and create the ape supremacist society seen in the first film. Meanwhile, some early ancestors of the mutants from the second film show up for added conflict.
Pros: Great characters. Caesar gets his best moments as a conflicted leader forced to battle his heart and conscience constantly and ends up making some surprising choices (far from the ideal we’d expect, yet still a fully sympathetic character), his advisor, Virgil (Paul Williams) is one of the most fun characters in the entire series, the idea of having the guardian of the armory be a pacifist who also functions as the guardian of Caesar’s conscience is brilliant, Aldo plays the first truly convincing and terrifying villain of the franchise, and John Huston finally depicts the oft referenced Lawgiver. Additionally, the tragedy and revenge that unfolds between Caesar and Aldo is unforgettable.
Cons: Low low low budget film! Caesar’s “nation” consists of maybe forty citizens, and mutant forces are even smaller, and their war machines consist of an old car and school bus. With access to all the remaining resources of the demolished city, they couldn’t unearth one tank?
Worth noting: The seemingly tacked on twist ending of seeing Caesar’s statue cry makes no clear indication of whether or not Caesar has managed to prevent the old future from repeating itself by the end.
Glitches: Apes have evolved far further in this film, all now able to fully articulate themselves as well as humans whereas none could speak only a few years earlier in the previous film.
Seemingly unable to get the actor who played McDonald in the previous film to return, the actor in this one is said to be his “cousin,” even while he has effectively the same personality and role.
Of course, we never see nor learn about how the nuclear holocaust between this and the previous film occurred, though it is the subject of Revolution on the Planet of the Apes.
Planet of the Apes (TV Series, 1974)
This series was airing at the same time that vol. 1 of the comic book series launched. It features two more astronauts who are somehow taken off course and end up thousands of years in the future on the Planet of the Apes. They are aided by chimp sympathizer, Galen (Roddy McDowall’s third role in the franchise). This series is generally considered to take place along the same continuity of the other Apes films, though I would argue that it cannot for two simple reasons:
1. We see dogs in at least two episodes of the series (episodes 1 and 5), but all house pets were wiped out by disease prior to the 1990s in the original Apes series.
2. The 2nd and 5th films clearly establish that the Ape City is one small, isolated community, surrounded by other lands and cultures that they have never previously encountered, including the mutants who were only a day’s ride away. Yet the TV series establishes the Ape City as a capital (actually called “Central City”) to an entire empire of surrounding ape communities, some of which many days’ travels away by horse.
Pros: Many very powerful episodes (The Trap, The Good Seeds, and The Legacy, The Surgeon, The Deception), and no particularly bad ones (Note, I have only viewed the first eight of fourteen total episodes at this point). Mark Lenard plays a very convincing and well-rounded antagonist who has real reasons to fear and hate the human protagonists. Also, Roddy McDowall takes on his third ape character and once again makes him memorable and different from the ones he’s played before. It would have been very easy for Galen to resemble Cornelius, and yet they are far from the same. I absolutely adore whenever Galen is confronted by astonishing future technologies and whines, “Is it mag-ic?”
Cons: In a world in which every village they meet follows the same hierarchy and class structure, there is only so much range for the entire series. Also, the humans are a little too clean-cut perfect. Beyond the fact that one is a family man who wants to get home and one gives up a little easier, there really isn't much to either's character.
Worth Noting: Nothing, really, beyond McDowall’s and Lenard’s performances.
Glitches: Once again, this cannot be in the same continuity as the rest of the original POTA franchise for the reasons stated above.