Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

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Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Post  BoG on Sun Mar 21, 2010 7:05 pm

There are a few sci-fi fans, who consider this 4th film (the 3rd sequel) in the Apes saga to be atrocious and perhaps even the worst of the lot. And yet, there are also a few who consider this one to be the best sequel. In many ways, this one is the most divisive of the 4 sequels. Hard to pin down? Difficult to analyze properly? You say monkey business, I say ape action?
I believe that this 4th film in the Apes series (after Escape From the Planet of the Apes) has some fans because it's the most ambitious of the sequels. To wit: during the course of the film, we are presented with an alternate version of modern North America (circa 1991), a totalitarian version, and then the planning and execution to overthrow this regime - a full-fledged revolution. Of course, events such as these should take years, sometimes many years, and everything is compressed into what seems to be a matter of weeks. We may infer that the story is a parable, perhaps not to be taken completely literally.

Taking place almost 20 years after the events of the previous film, we learn quite a bit in the first few scenes, courtesy of Ricardo Montalban's character, Armando, who explains all this stuff to the son (Roddy McDowall) of the 2 apes from the far future. Quite a lot has happened in those past couple of decades, including the death of all cats & dogs due to a plague (back in 1983). Apes have already evolved within this very short time into mankind's latest slave class (perhaps the plague affected them - this is conjecture; the filmmakers don't bother to explain why the apes here already look like the futuristic ones of 2,000 years later - in Planet of the Apes,1968). Also, with this oppressive, cruel atmosphere, it's no accident that some of the policemen resemble Nazi stormtroopers. I think the film was pretty successful in presenting this oppression; I felt a bit closed in and trapped when I first watched this, as if I was about to be arrested any second.
This film tries to make a statement, which can be powerful if presented correctly and all too rare in most science fiction films (especially nowadays); as to how well the film succeeds at this... well, that's what promotes debate. What it proposes is that mankind will always fill the need to possess a slave class; is it (a) out of plain laziness? (b) The advances in a society in which most free citizens outgrow all menial jobs? Or is it (c) just some need to dominate another class? What might annoy some viewers is the presumably easy way in which America slipped towards a version of Nazi Germany; this is done to facilitate the story of a rebellion, but no substantial reasons are given for this slip to the dark side. As said, there's room for debate - this film proposes that societies seem doomed to a cycle, as the new lower class eventually rises up and forms the new society. In this case, all that was needed was a new Caesar (McDowall) to organize the worker class. I did like a few of the scenes here, especially where the future ape leader picks out his new name and all his scenes with the fascistic governor (Murray).
The scenes of those multitudes of apes, dressed in basic colors, undergoing mass training, stay in the mind because they really are disturbing. The cinematography is  different from the previous films, stressing deep blacks and a coarse palette. Filmed in an area with very modern architecture (even by today's standards), this achieves a nice futuristic feel. Much of the later scenes take place at night, in the dark, including all the climactic battle action sequences during the swift revolution, and this future city forms an eerie backdrop. I don't pretend to understand how even taking over this one entire city results in eventual global control by the apes but, speaking of battle, the next and final film was Battle For the Planet of the Apes. Maybe that one would explain some of these issues, but I think you would have to approach it with an open mind -  a very open mind. BoG's Score: 7 out of 10
Click here CONQUEST OF THE POTA Program
to view the original program booklet from 1972.

There were  rumors (December, 2008) of a remake of this film or a prequel to the Planet of the Apes saga. Click here Chud.com interview, where a Mr. Scott Frank explains that this was not a planned remake, but... something else.

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