The Worst of All Worlds
I have to report another outbreak of the Twilight phenomenon, in and around cinemas as far as the eye can see. Now, as you can imagine, this is not without consequences. One of them is that –if all I hear of the plot of the new film is correct –I shall have to retire my Twilight limerick, which runs thusly:
There once was a vampire named Edward
Reluctant to lead his girl bed-ward
When she found herself faced
With a boyfriend so chaste
She said 'Maybe he simply can't get wood.'
(Farewell, good and faithful servant.)
The other is that, as the new movie is infesting the majority of theatres in town, and many of the others are occupied with precipitously-released Christmas children's films, there isn't really anything on worth seeing at the cinema (yes, this from the man who spent money to watch The Three Musketeers, Immortals and The Future). And so I have decided to take this opportunity to snip off a particular dangling thread and conclude my look at one of my favourite SF movie series with a review of J Lee Thompson's 1973 movie Battle for the Planet of the Apes.
A dangling loose end is perhaps a not inappropriate metaphor for this least impressive cinematic product of the Planet of the Apes phenomenon. Opening with a brisk recap of the previous film-and-a-bit, it finds North America in the early 21st century in agrarian post-holocaust mode: the ape revolution fomented by Caesar (Roddy McDowell) has indeed culminated in nuclear war (apparently on a fairly limited scale) and now the survivors, both human and ape, are living in peace, though life is not without tensions –the humans are uneasy with the dominance of the apes, while the militaristic gorillas are chafing under Caesar's rule...
Apropos of pretty much nothing (but they have to get the plot started somehow) Caesar's human aide Macdonald (Austin Stoker, playing the brother of Hari Rhodes' character from the previous movie) persuades him to mount an expedition to the ruins of Los Angeles in search of secret documents that may reveal the destiny of the planet (relics from the third film in the series). However, in doing so they attract the attention of xenophobic and paranoid humans also living in the ruins.
Not entirely unexpectedly (but they have to get a climax from somewhere) the humans assume the expedition's intentions were hostile and decide to launch a counterattack in force against Caesar's settlement. Matters are, inevitably, complicated by an ill-timed grab for power by gorilla leader Aldo (Claude Akins).
Battle for the Planet of the Apes is perhaps not quite as unremittingly awful as some reviewers would have you believe, but compared to the quality of most of the other films in the series it is a deeply unimpressive offering, built around sentimental melodrama and underpowered action where the other films had genuinely interesting ideas and engaging characters to drive them along.
What's particularly galling is that, at every step of the film's production, the makers seem to have chosen the least interesting, least challenging option. The series' main screenwriter, Paul Dehn, had his concept for the movie rejected and was replaced by John and Joyce Corrington, whose work is only competent at best –the plot is uninspired, and while some of their dialogue raises a smile –'We may be irradiated, but at least we're still active,' says chief bad guy Severn Darden, enjoying a promotion from assistant villain in the previous film –some of it is... well, look, I just feel sorry for Paul Stevens, playing pacifist human Mendez, who at one point gets the choice assignment of delivering the following monologue: 'This bloody chain reaction has got to stop. A destroys B, B destroys C, C destroys A and is destroyed by D who destroys E. Before anyone knows where they are there won't be anyone left to know anything, anywhere.' Er –yeah. No wonder he doesn't get taken along for the war.
Paul Dehn's original treatment for the movie –or at least something claiming to be it –is, inevitably, available on t'internet, and while still flawed the tone of the piece is much more recognisably part of the same series. Knowing this was to be the last film, Dehn set out to close the circle of the series by showing the beginnings of the situation to be found in the first film –the on-line treatment features the nuclear attack that destroys Los Angeles, the origins of the Forbidden Zone and the human mutant society within it, and the human population being rendered mute through primitive surgery. Pretty heavy stuff, and given how young the films' core audience was by this point perhaps it's understandable why the producers shied away from it.
Even so, some of this material survived in a toned-down form in the Corringtons' script, most notably in a number of scenes in the ruined city where it is revealed that the humans still have one nuclear weapon left: a very special one, which may explain their very reverent attitude towards it. This got filmed, but was then cut from the final movie on the grounds that it wasn't really relevant to the plot and was simply a superfluous exercise in i-dotting.
So we're left with a weary runaround, with only Roddy McDowell's strong performance, a few other familiar faces in the supporting cast, and the trademark rotten continuity (no more than a decade or so seems to have elapsed since the previous film, yet someone claims to have lived in the post-apocalyptic settlement for twenty-seven years, for one thing) to really show this is part of the same series as the other films. On its own merits, Battle for the Planet of the Apes is a negligible, feeble little film, with nothing to suggest the real merits of the series which it represents. And viewed as a part of that series, it is inevitably a terrible disappointment –it's difficult to imagine any future movie with the Apes name on it plumbing quite such depths of pointlessness.