Sunday, May 28, 2006

Ape Madness- Battle for the Planet

Unlike a lot of kids born in the 1960’s I was not a fan of the PLANET OF THE APES movies as a tyke. I was well into my teens before I finally saw the classic first film but since then I’ve been a true believer. Because of my latecomer status I missed the Apes craze of the early 70’s and all the amazing toys, games and comics that came out in those fun times. By the time I caught up with the original five movies I wasn’t even aware of the correct order they were made in and had to consult the Leonard Maltin Movie Guide to dope things out. My how times have changed.

For my birthday this year my beloved girlfriend bought me the Ultimate Planet of the Apes DVD Collection. Housed inside a plastic reproduction of Caesar (the character played by Roddy McDowell in the 4th and 5th films) are 14 discs comprising every single Apes film and TV episode ever made. That I asked (nay, begged) for this chunk of video overkill should demonstrate that I am indeed a fan of these movies. Some might even say too much of a fan but I will ignore these maladjusted troublemakers. They’ll be the first against the wall when the apes come! The big news about this set for most was that the long bootlegged and extremely rare Ape animated series from 1976 was to be included. That was good news, don’t get me wrong. But the best news for me was that the longer version of BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES was to be included! Unlike the first four movies there is an alternate version put together for TV syndication that is 10 minutes longer than the theatrical cut. This version has never been released on video in any format so this made the purchase of the big Ape head an eventuality, not a possibility. And now that I have seen the extra footage I can say that it does make the film a notch or two better. It doesn’t make it great but it gives gravitas to scenes that lacked......well. They lacked a lot. And this version doesn’t correct the missteps of the script so much as make the direction it chooses more palatable.

For me, one of the strongest draws of the POTA series is that it’s a post-apocalyptic story and a good one. I love these kinds of tales and enjoy them so much that I tend to like even the worst of the sub-genre. My love of post-apocalyptic movies makes it easier to understand why I have little desire to revisit the most critically lauded of the four sequels ESCAPE FROM THE PLANET OF THE APES as it transfers the ape characters to modern day Earth. While this second sequel is a good movie it just doesn’t hold the appeal of the others- at least for me. I want to see war scarred cities, and desolate landscapes where mutants and mute humans fight for possession of a crumbling planet! A bunch of bureaucrats holding meetings about what it means that they’ve found some talking apes in a space capsule somehow just doesn’t grab my imagination. So, it is that I find the fourth and fifth films in the series more entertaining than the third. Even diehard Ape fans will admit that BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES is the worst of them all and I agree. But I still have a lot of love for it as it offers up a fairly decent ending to the series and almost points the way toward the first film.
Sort of.
Well, not really.
Ya see- the problem with trying to get the time line of the Ape movies straight is that the series folds back on itself. Not content to push humans forward in time in the first two and Apes backward in time in the third the filmmakers felt the need to show us the start of the events that lead to Apes being the dominant species. But by having the events that lead to the end of human dominance kick started by the child of time traveling apes changes the story laid out in the original film. So events that should have taken centuries are collapsed down to decades leaving a rushed feeling hanging over the last two films. That the movies WERE done in a rushed fashion and with increasingly smaller budgets explains this fault, but it doesn’t make it any easier to love them. That’s where nuts like me come in!

BATTLE ‘s biggest problem in my opinion isn’t budget or a rushed production schedule. It’s the decision to make the film as kid friendly as possible. The year before the 4th movie with its violent uprising of ape against human oppressors got a PG rating even after a re-shoot of the ending to tone down the harsh speech McDowell gives to his fellow rebels. 20th Century Fox was not about to let high minded ideas get in the way of profitability and so the 5th movie is back to the series’ normal G rating. But even with all its flaws, limitations, clumsy direction and awkward dialog there are still great moments. The scene at the armory when Caesar and his companions must justify their need for weapons is written and played beautifully. If only all the dialog in the movie felt as smart and well crafted as this BATTLE would be judged much better.

Still, I really enjoy this movie and finally seeing the longer version makes that easier. It is not perfect (or even close) but it’s an Ape load of fun!

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