Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) Director: J. Lee Thompson
“Lousy human bastards!”
The setting is North America, 1991 (18 years later the events of 1971’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes). The intelligent baby chimp from the previous film (the offspring of Cornelius and Zira) has been smuggled away by Armando (Ricardo Montalbán) but a deadly virus has struck earth from space and it has destroyed all of earth’s cats and dogs for some reason. Now, the apes have been enslaved by a one-world dystopian government. The baby chimp Caesar is played by Roddy McDowall who previously played Caesar’s father Cornelius in three of the earlier films, and after Armando is captured, interrogated by the gestapo, and forced to kill himself, Caesar keeps silent and assimilates among the ape slaves. After witnessing horrendous crimes and abuses of power, he soon leads an uprising with the support of his girlfriend Lisa (Natalie Trundy), though in the end Caesar makes efforts to rise above the allure of cruelty.
This fourth installment in the Planet of the Apes series was shot at Century City and at UC Irvine –the use of some clever camera work with the outdoor sets gave the impression of a dark futuristic city. This was initially intended to be the conclusion to the Apes series, but it was later expanded into a fifth film the following year before being rebooted again decades later. The plot for Conquest draws upon themes directly taken from the civil rights movement, as well as the Watts riots in Los Angeles at the time, making this perhaps the most explicitly political film in the series. It serves as a metaphor for the revolutionary spirit of the ’60s and ’70s. Conquest was shot on a low budget, but I still thought this was a surprisingly powerful entry into the series. The film drags at points, but I thought it was perhaps the best Apes story since the original Planet of the Apes, which none of the sequels come close to rivaling. Whereas in the original the theme of nuclear war looms large, in Conquest the primary concern is enslavement and social unrest. It is a fitting movie to reflect the mood of the era, and perhaps in some ways it holds a mirror up to our own age, as well. Interestingly enough, the 2011 reboot Rise of the Planet of the Apes was a somewhat loose remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.