Phil Dreizen

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

" has been established that the ape mob is under the command of a super-normally intelligent chimpanzee who has acquired the power of speech. This would suggest that the ape leader may be the child (thought to have been destroyed) of the two talking Chimpanzees, Cornelius and Zira, who came to us from outer space twenty years ago. As such, he constitutes a threat to the future of the whole human race..."

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is a mess of a movie, that is really too ridiculous for logical discussion. Each Planet of the Apes movie is worse than the one before it. The first, one of my favorite movies, is a long way from this, the fourth and second to last in the series. With a such a silly plot, and a lot of Ricardo Montalban, I had hoped that it would at least serve as campy fun, and it does to some extent, but it isn't as fun as I would have hoped.

The whole movie does lead up to a very violent ape riot that I did enjoy, and maybe that's worth it. There's also a speech by Caesar, leader of the apes, who incites his fellow apes to violence - in English, which the other apes couldn't possibly understand - and reveals his plan to wait for the day humans destroy each other, and make room for the apes who will rise from what's left of the world. It's the kind of thing I had been waiting for all movie.

If you're watching the theatrical release, the only version available prior to 2008, you'll also see a second speech in which Caesar, changing his mind, calls for a more peaceful resolution to the day's violence. The test audiences of 1973 reacted negatively to the original ending, so the movie cuts in the the new audio with what video footage was available, making an already cheap looking movie look worse.

So the premise is this: in 1983 or so, a virus, from outer space, was brought back to earth by astronauts. Humans were immune, but the virus killed the entire population of dogs and cats. Humans sought to replace their dead dogs and cats with apes. It turned out the apes were so good at learning how to do things, they later became servants, and by 1991 they are treated as slaves. (We learn of all this via exposition by Ricardo Montalban).

The events of the previous movie, Escape from Planet of the Apes, happened 20 years ago. Cornelius and Zira arrived on Earth, from the future, and had a baby chimp, originally named Milo but now called Caesar. Armando, an ape loving circus trainer, has kept Caesar, an intelligent ape capable of speech, a secret the entire time. Somehow, Armando has concealed the enslavement of the apes from Caesar, but apparently chose to reveal it to him as he and Caesar walk around the the city promoting Armando's upcoming circus show.

The time loop of Escape from Planet of the Apes means that the apes of the future are responsible for their own existence. That was an unfortunate direction to take the series, because one of the appeals of the first movie is that it suggests humanity's self destruction, opening an ecological niche that was filled by the apes. Conquest continues to develop the poor direction from Escape, while introducing a new even more ridiculous element: that the evolution of the apes was spurred by their enslavement by humans, humans who trained them to be more human. None of this was suggested by the first movie

So while walking around the city, Caesar sees a fellow ape being beaten, and he can't help yell out "Lousy, human bastards" (an allusion to the original movie). Armando takes the blame to try to cover up the secret of Caesar's existence, leading to his eventual death, and Caesar vows revenge upon humanity. It's interesting that Caesar's rebellion against humanity is actually caused by the death of a human.

This all leads to the long bloody climax, in which Caesar and the apes take over the city, an entertaining spectacle - especially in the unedited version. It's a small conquest, but in a well delivered speech, to apes that don't speak English, Caesar promises that there will be more to come.

Caesar predicts that the humans will destroy each other, and the apes will be waiting for that day. Couldn't Escape and Conquest just have been skipped over? Can Battle for Planet of the Apes be any worse than this?

Some points of note:

  • The apes of 1991 are supposed to be your standard variety orangutans, gorillas, and chimpanzees. But they all look like anthropomorphic apes from the original Planet of the Apes.
  • America(?) of 1991 is an Orwellian state. At least for apes - it's difficult to tell exactly to what extent humans are being oppressed. By the looks of the Nazi-like uniforms the security forces wear in the movie, it doesn't look too hopeful.
  • 1991 is quite technologically advanced: force fields and the "authenticator," a menacing looking truth extracting machine.
  • Apes make lousy slaves. The opening is full of scenes in which apes do human tasks poorly. They're scared of open flames. They overfill glasses of water. They can't comb hair very well. It seems to take almost as many security people to keep the apes in check as there are apes doing the manual labor.
  • Training apes consists of almost no positive reinforcement. They're often beaten, but rarely rewarded for doing something right.
  • We never see Caesar inspiring the other apes into a rebellion until the end of the movie. The apes just listen to Caesar for unexplained reasons.