Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973) Director: J. Lee Thompson
“Ape Shall Never Kill Ape.”
By this point, the fifth film sequentially in line from the brilliant original Planet of the Apes film is a tired and an all-around cheap effort in my view. This somewhat forgettable movie concludes the original tetralogy of Apes movies prior to the reboot of the franchise decades later with Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes (2001) and then again with a new trilogy beginning with Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011).
In Battle for the Planet of the Apes, the legendary John Huston serves as the bookended narrator, an ape lawgiver who speaks to us from centuries in the future. The plot takes us to North America in the year 2670. It begins with an odd summary of the Adam and Eve story leading up to the events of the talking ape named Caesar (Roddy McDowall) who was featured prominently in the last few Apes films. Caesar had led an uprising against the enslaving humans, and now the apes, in conjunction with the gorillas, are building a new civilization. Their once grand city now lies in ruins following a catastrophic nuclear war. However, there are also internal tensions with the gorillas led by Aldo (Claude Akins). Caesar attempts to rule benevolently, respecting human life and also ape law, but in order to gain a better sense about the future he travels to the ruins of the ape city at the behest of a human named MacDonald (Austin Stoker). However, amidst the ruins of the ape city they find a race of hostile mutants living underground (these mutants hardly look like the ones featured in Beneath the Planet of the Apes unfortunately). This leads to a battle between the ape encampment and the human mutants –though nothing is really accomplished in this fight. And Aldo kills Caesar’s son, despite the ape maxim not to kill a fellow ape, so Caesar chases Aldo up a tree and tosses him downward to his death.
Hundreds of years later, John Huston’s narrator/lawgiver returns and we learn that he is speaking to a peaceful group of both apes and humans. Meanwhile a statue of Caesar stands nearby with a tear falls down its face. Thus concludes this lackluster coda to the original Planet of the Apes series. I’m not sure but maybe this script might have been better used as an episode of the short-lived television show rather than as a feature-length film. The Planet of the Apes show aired in 1974 for fourteen episodes (including a couple unbroadcasted episodes). Two initial episode scripts for the show actually came from Rod Serling, creator of The Twilight Zone, who also wrote the first draft of the script for the original Planet of the Apes film, based on Peter Boulle’s novel La Planète des singes (1963). Perhaps that is why the first film is the best!