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Battle for the Planet of the Apes - Sci-Fi Classic Film Review



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Are you interested in my thoughts on Apple TV's Foundation? I'm doing a podcast with a friend of mine called "Cracking Foundation," available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and more. Check it out!


Battle for the Planet of the Apes
Battle for the Planet of the Apes

After a nuclear war has devastated the globe, Caesar, the revolutionary child of intelligent chimpanzees from the future, has formed a small village where apes and humans can live together in harmony. However, he faces threats both from within and without as he struggles to ensure a better future for all. With one familiar enemy launching a full-scale assault on his home and another plotting his murder, can Caesar save himself, his city, and his ideals?

This is Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the final chapter in the original series of Planet of the Apes films. Paul Dehn had originally written a darker film that was more in keeping with the tone of Conquest, but the studio, eager to pull back on the bleak violence, demanded significant changes that made the final script far more family-friendly, including an ending that is mostly positive and hopeful, depending on how you interpret a crying statue. Readers probably expect me to rail against this based upon my feelings about the post-production changes to the ending of Conquest, but from a conceptual standpoint, I'm actually fine with this adjustment, even the heavy-handed ending that bucks series tradition.

What really lets Battle for the Planet of the Apes down isn't the script, at least not entirely. There are some problems with the story that I'll discuss in a moment, but the real problems with the film stem from impossible time and budget constraints. These let down a good concept and a workable script with cheap sets, wonky matte paintings, close-up action scenes in wide open spaces, substandard make-up effects, poor costumes, and ridiculously bad editing that uses repeated takes, relies on fast cuts to hide the flaws, and has a bad tendency to make enormous continuity errors (like General Aldo having a bunch of gorillas behind him in the climax, even though he's all by himself, standing on top of a tree branch).

Battle for the Planet of the Apes
This is the most people they could afford for a single shot

This all adds up to a film that feels like a made-for-TV movie from the same time period, and when you compare its production values to the subsequent, short-lived television show, it's hard to see much of a difference. You can't lay blame completely on the director, J. Lee Thompson, because he was clearly trying to disguise the film's shortcomings, but I'm also willing to give the studio the benefit of the doubt, given that the series had seen diminishing returns with each entry. However, looking with hindsight, did they really need to make this movie? It made a small profit, to be sure, but it's still considered the black sheep of the entire franchise, with by far the worst critical scores by a wide range of metrics, even more disliked among fans and critics than the 2001 remake.

More to the point, did they have to rush it through production? Though I feel the need to defend the script, credited both to Paul Dehn and the writing duo of John and Joyce Corrington, it feels rushed, making a few logical leaps that the briefest of pauses for consideration would have caught. For example, this takes place, at most, only about twenty years after the events of Conquest, and yet, somehow, all apes have learned to talk and become intelligent (and in the case of Virgil, to become incredibly well-educated on a wide range of complex subjects). There is nothing in the story to explain this sudden and rapid evolution of ape-kind.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes
Embarrassing

There's also the inciting incident, which is just plain lazy. Caesar decides to go visit the nearby ruins of a human city just because he wants to see old tapes of his parents being questioned by the presidential commission. This is dumb on a number of levels, but primarily, it forces us to believe that at no point in his growing up with Armando did he ever see any of the footage of the world-famous talking apes, nor did Armando ever even show him a picture of them. It's also frustrating for an audience to see the main character go looking for information that it, the audience, already knows and which is, ultimately, not relevant to the plot in any significant way.

It's also lazy that the two main threats, the mutants and General Aldo, aren't connected by events. They both just happen to come to a head at precisely the same time, when it shouldn't be difficult to find a simple way to attach them in the plot, like having something bad happen in Ape City that Caesar could have prevented but didn't because he'd snuck off to the same area he prohibited for everyone else. This could have given reason for Aldo to collect a few followers and, when Aldo insists the mutants are coming and is correct, his mutiny would be more narratively logical.

Battle for the Planet of the Apes
Starting with a kinder, gentler Caesar makes for a good character arc

All that said, I still appreciate what the film is trying to do. It is frustrating, because the core plot is a good one, and it could, if done well, revolve around Caesar being pushed to the point where he must break his one rule and reveal himself to be "human" instead of some glorified ideal he has made for himself. It could still be about breaking the cycle of violence and it could still bridge the gap in the timeline by introducing the nuclear war and the mutants. It's just that the execution, when all is said and done, is lacking.

While I find Battle for the Planet of the Apes to be frustrating for its lost potential, though, I still rank it a little bit higher than Beneath the Planet of the Apes. If you ask me to rank the original film series, I'd say Planet of the Apes, Conquest, Escape, Battle, and Beneath, but there's plenty more to cover. Next week, we'll look at the Tim Burton remake, and after that, I do plan on re-reviewing the more recent remake trilogy.



-e. magill 11/11/2021


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SPECIAL THANKS TO MY PATRONS:

BattyBatFirebrand
Chris Connell
David Murray
Diane Magill-Davis
John Burrill
Myk OConnor
Paul Kyriazi
Sylar Magician
Warren Davis


Become a Patron today!
patreon.com/emagill


PLANET OF THE APES:
  • Planet of the Apes (novel)
  • Planet of the Apes (1968)
  • Beneath the Planet of the Apes
  • Escape from the Planet of the Apes
  • Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
  • Battle for the Planet of the Apes
  • Planet of the Apes (2001)
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
  • War for the Planet of the Apes

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