Thursday, February 25, 2016

The greatest danger of all is that danger never ends: Battle for the Planet of the Apes

Not the best way to end the series. But then, if it didn't end badly, it probably wouldn't ever end. Oh, wait...

Battle for the Planet of the Apes, 1973, directed by J. Lee Thompson.

We see that the gorillas are militant, the chimps are smart, and the orangutans are...there. Half a generation or so has passed since the night of fires, and ape society is doing its best. Humans are second-class, if that. They're not allowed to say "no" to an ape. The gorillas are all for exterminating what few humans there are. Things aren't going well, so MacDonald (not the black guy from Conquest, but his brother, which is weird; they even refer to the brother, but he's not in it, just like this brother was referred to in Conquest but wasn't in it) tells Caesar, who's in charge, about tapes that will allow Caesar to hear his parents talk and help him figure out how to deal with the problems in his society. Caesar, MacDonald, and an orangutan named Virgil to go to the nearest city. They do hear the tapes, and find out how bad things turn out--for both humans and apes.

But of course the mutants living under the city discover them. They follow the group and find their settlement, and decide to destroy it. They've got lots of guns and bombs, see.

Back at the settlement, the gorillas are trying to take over. Caesar's son Cornelius overhears the gorillas' plans, so the gorillas (well, the lead rabble-rouser Aldo anyway) tries to kill the kid. He only partly does the job. Then the humans attack, and the apes defeat them.

With his dying breath, Cornelius reveals that Aldo is his killer. When everyone learns that Aldo has violated the inviolable ape rule of "Ape shall never kill ape," they forsake his attempt to take over. Caesar confronts him, though it's not a fight. They just climb a tree and Aldo falls out, to his death.

There's a framing mechanism, in which the Lawgiver is telling the story of this battle. At the end, we learn that he's teaching it to a bunch of human and chimp kids. So learning about the past has, at least six hundred years in the future, allowed Caesar and those who come after him to make a different future than the one that Taylor found in the first two films. Then, we see a statue of Caesar, and for some reason it's crying.

What a horrible way to end the movie, and the series. Why in the world is that statue crying?

Anyway, the coolest thing about the movie is that John Huston plays the Lawgiver. What a great voice. As great as Ian McKellan was as Gandalf, Huston's version from the Rankin/Bass cartoons is the one I hear in my head (though I couldn't reproduce it well when I read Lord of the Rings to my son the first time).

The apes' fashion doesn't change in the thousand years or whatever it is between this movie and the future of the first film, when Taylor arrives. Neither does their English. The fact that everybody speaks English is hard to get around, and I'm willing to forget that. But that they wear exactly the same clothing, divided by species? Not so much.

There's some effort devoted to making the apes move like apes, but it's mostly confined to the way they run and facial twitching. C for effort.

I'm not crazy about the villain falling to his death. It's a cheat, a way that allows for resolution without requiring the hero to kill. 

I couldn't get into this movie. It just seemed so unnecessary to me. I see what they're going for, in establishing that Caesar steers the future away from what Taylor found, but I feel like this was maybe the least interesting way to go about it. And the proto-mutants, who worship the nuclear weapon that Taylor eventually sets off, aren't very interesting. I'm not sure what I was looking for in this movie, which I don't think I'd seen before (except in its more recent reconfiguration as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), but this wasn't it.

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