Monday, September 19, 2011

3 Paragraphs On: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

1972, J Lee Thompson -- DVD

After watching "Rise of the..." I decided I needed to revisit its sister movie from the original Apes series.  With the exception of the final chapter ("Battle for the...") I'm actually quite fond of the series, genuinely appreciating how each film extended and built upon what had come before it, in a way that sequels today don't really do so well.  With diminishing budgets each subsequent film looks a little worse that the previous yet with the limitations in technical challenges, the films instead do what good SF is supposed to, build upon themes that reflect society at the time, whether it be socio-political issues or fears about bombs or genetic tampering.

"Conquest of the..." isn't a great movie, it's barely a good movie, but it's an interesting product of its times, in a heavy-handed way commenting on civil rights issues of the time by way of a talking ape, Caesar, the offspring of two ill-fated, backwards-time-traveling apes in the previous film, protected from civilization in a circus by Ricardo Montalban but then brought to the city for the first time where he witnesses the enslavement that's befallen his ape brethren in the wake of the sudden extinction of cats and dogs.  Caesar hides in plain sight, begins organizing an underground revolution, and conspiring against the very oppressors who fear their uprising.

The film's script is surprisingly keen and also surprisingly slight.  Its short run-time (88 minutes) is eaten into greatly by the revolt, an intense (if limited) half hour sequence of apes fighting humans.  It's not a big budget battle scene like "Rise of the..." had, but rather a very 70's melee of bodies hitting the ground.  The rest of the script largely consists of the stern use of "NO!" and "DO!".  Although it really feels like an excerpted episode of a television show, it's still engaging viewing, as much marveling at it's speculative-future 1991-setting (which has a lot of great monochromatic sets and some wonderful tunnels) as the story it actually tells.