Friday, September 2, 2011

Normal Conquests

It's apes number four. Conquest of the Planet of the Apes from 1972 directed by J.Lee Thompson who also directed the original Cape Fear. They were certainly turning these sequels out fast, one a year regular as clockwork.
This one jumps forwards 20 years from the previous film to a futuristic 1991 filmed in and around the concrete walkways and high rises of Century city, Los Angeles. Roddy McDowell plays Caesar, the son of Cornelius and Zira from Escape, who arrives in the city at the start of the film. It's all very strange with apes acting as servants to bored humans who seem to spend all their time shopping, getting their hair done and eating in fancy restaurants. Luckily Ricardo Montalban is on hand to explain it to us. A virus from space has wiped out all the cats and dogs on the planet so mankind adopted apes as pets and then started to train and condition them as servants and a virtually free workforce. It's not explained how apes have changed into the more humanoid shape portrayed in the film, or how humans can man-handle fully grown gorillas so easily.

A word about clothing here. The Planet of the Apes movies like uniformity: all chimpanzees wear green, orang-utans wear orange, and gorillas wear black, although in this film the gorillas wear Guantanamo bay orange jump suits. In this future setting all the humans wear black or grey suits with all the men wearing turtle neck sweaters under their jackets. And the police? Well they wear black uniforms with silver piping and shiny peaked caps. It's strange that whenever science fiction wants to depict some oppressive police force they reach for the design book marked SS. At least George Lucas gave the storm-troopers white armour as a break with tradition.

Let us look past the uniforms, the humanoid apes, the problems of crowd control and the numerous extras wearing rather poor ape masks. This film is all about the birth of a revolutionary. Caesar is soon separated from the kindly Montalban and forced to hide in plain sight amongst his fellow apes. As he witnesses the brutal tactics used to subdue his ape brothers and sisters so his revolutionary spirit grows. Soon he is recruiting apes to his cause, stockpiling weapons and planning a campaign of civil disobedience which will lead to the film's climax and the conquest of the title.

Roddy McDowell does pretty well here in probably his biggest role in all the ape films. I would have liked to have a bit more time to watch his growth from friendly circus chimp to the leader of a slave uprising but at least we get much more action than in the last film. Again there is plenty for the stunt men to do and particular credit to the two guys involved in the flame thrower fight.

This may be the high point of the ape sequels. Of course the future depicted is pretty unlikely but if we can look past the many improbabilities this is an entertaining film and certainly my favourite of the sequels so far.
Next up is Battle for the Planet of Apes and memories of teenagers bluffing their way in to films they are too young for.

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