Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

Planet of the Apes

Beneath the Planet of the Apes

Escape from the Planet of the Apes

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

Battle for the Planet of the Apes

Lava LampLava LampLava Lamp

Our rating: three LAVA® motion lamps.

Uh oh, Gandalf's gone to seed.
By the time Battle for the Planet of the Apes begins, Earth (as seen in flashbacks to the previous two films) has officially become the Planet of the Apes, hereafter known as "POTA". The humans have not only become the subjects of their primate brothers (the Chimpanzees, Orangutans, and Gorillas), but some segment of the human population has also nuked itself out of existence. "The Forbidden City" -- presumably New York, as in the first two movies -- is now a blackened, melted husk of its former self. It is inhabited only by mutants: men who would not abandon what was left of civilization and chose instead to remain as irradiated freaks.

This is more or less what children living during the Cold War era were told the world would become anyway, apes or no apes.

It does, however, make for a darned good backdrop for the final chapter in the Planet of the Apes series (on the big screen, anyway). Caesar (Roddy McDowell, back for a fourth spin under the make-up), now the wise leader of the Ape tribe living outside the city, does his best to reign in the aggressive tendencies of warrior Aldo and the other gorillas while trying to integrate humans into the tribe. Aldo (played by Claude Akins, possibly with no make-up at all), on the other hand, wants to wage war on the remaining humans and so devotes his underpowered brain to getting the coveted guns out of the village armory.

Ape shall also never cut
things in rectangular shapes.
Most of the plot is concerned with Caesar's foray into the nearby bombed-out city, and the climatic battle between the apes and the proto-mutants who live there. The big battle features the leather clad proto-mutants attacking the ape's village in rag-tag vehicles, scenes that pre-date the seminal post-apocalyptic, leather clad, rag tag vehicle movie The Road Warrior by eight years.

The proto-mutants also provide most of the film's best lines. When one freakishly pacifistic proto-mutant calls for peace, he says:

"Governor, somewhere along the line of history this bloody chain reaction has got to stop. A destroys B, B destroys C, C destroys A and is destroyed by D, who destroys E."

Dear God, Sesame Street became cutthroat after the apocalypse! Still, it sounds like a pretty good deal if you're the letter D.

The Governor, for his part, has his own thoughts on a life of radioactivity: "We may be irradiated, but at least we're active."

Never leave your chimps
in the sun too long.
The declining budget syndrome, so obvious in many long-running series, hits the Apes series hard here at the end. The locations are limited to Caesar's Ewok village and the ruined city, which looks suspiciously like the basement of a power plant. What would low-budget movies do if power plants didn't have pipe-filled basements? The mind boggles. We would probably be subjected to a bunch of movies set in the future that take place in mall parking lots or something.

There is quite a bit of character development and some rather touching moments in Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Caesar's son, Cornelius, seems to represent all that is best in the nature of apes and humans, and the love which Caesar shows for his son is some of McDowall's finest acting, in makeup or out. Aldo, on the other hand, is merely brutish and selfish, rather than being evil in a calculated way, and one can see the beginnings of the gorilla caste in his group of thugs. Natalie Trundy returns as Caesar's wife, Lisa, and legendary cinematic short guy Paul Williams takes a turn as an orangutan named Virgil, obviously just warming up for his part in Phantom of the Paradise.

Battle is probably most interesting to those who are curious about the process by which Earth became the POTA, and as such it is curiously different from what we have been told in the previous films. Caesar's leadership of the early Ape colony runs contrary to the POTA history (in which Aldo led the Ape revolution) as explained by Cornelius and Zira in Escape from the Planet of the Apes. So intrigued by this were we that we set the trained monkeys -- we mean, researchers at the Stomp Tokyo Secret Labs to constructing a thorough Timeline of the Apes.

Timeline One (Aldo)

Why France loses so many wars.
1972 - Astronauts Taylor, Dodge, Landon and Stewart are launched a mission to another world. They are caught in some kind of time warp and disappear. (Planet of the Apes)

Later that year, another mission is sent on the same trajectory, to find out why the first mission disappeared. This second mission includes Brent. (Beneath the Planet of the Apes)

1981 - A plague comes to Earth, killing all cats and dog. Apes become the new pets, and later, slaves.

1991 (approximate) - A gorilla named Aldo leads a revolt against the humans. Shortly thereafter a nuclear war is waged, and the human civilization is decimated. Over the next several millennia, ape society becomes dominant and humanity is enslaved.

3955 - Taylor's ship lands near Ape City. He is captured by the intolerant ape society, and his crewmates are killed or lobotomized. Later he escapes with Nova, only to be captured by the mutants that live under New York City. (Planet of the Apes)

Later this same year Brent's ship arrives. Brent is the only survivor of the resulting crash. He encounters the apes, then gets caught along with Taylor, in a war between with apes and the mutants. The war ends with Taylor setting off a bomb that destroys the entire planet. (Beneath the Planet of the Apes)

"They want me to play Sheriff Lobo,
but I thought I'd try out
for the part of Bear."
But just before the planet explodes, Cornelius, Zira, and a scientist Milo escape into space on Taylor's spaceship. Milo had salvaged and repaired the ship earlier. The ship is catapulted backwards in time to... (Escape from the Planet of the Apes)

Timeline 2 (Caesar)

1972 - Same as Timeline 1.

1973 - The ship carrying Cornelius, Zira, and Milo lands off the coast of California. The chimpanzees are taken for regular apes. Milo is killed, and the other two reveal themselves to the general public. Initially taken as celebrities, the government finds out about the future from the now pregnant Zira, and tries to abort her baby. Cornelius and Zira are killed, but their baby survives. (Escape from the Planet of the Apes)

1981 - Same as Timeline 1.

1991 - Caesar, the son of Cornelius and Zira leads a revolution among ape slaves in one city. Sometime shortly afterwards, nuclear war breaks out. (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes)

2001 - Caesar now heads an ape community on the edge of a radioactive zone. The apes fight off an attack by the humans who live in the nearby bombed out city. At around the same time Aldo kills Caesar's son. Caesar then kills Aldo, and reaffirms his will to have humans live with apes as equals. (Battle for the Planet of the Apes)

2670 - Apes and humans live in harmony. (prologue/epilogue of Battle for the Planet of the Apes)

As with all time travel stories, this creates a paradox. If Cornelius' and Zira's trip back in time created a new timeline where apes and humans live in harmony (and Caesar is worshipped instead of the human-hating Lawgiver seen in the original movie), then how did Taylor land in a future where humans are slaves? If Taylor lands in the more egalitarian future, he wouldn't destroy the earth (well, maybe not -- he's still Charlton Heston), and Cornelius and Zira wouldn't go back in time -- ah, screw it. Let Stephen Hawking figure it all out.

Jojo presented his work on the
next chapter of the latest
V.C. Andrews novel, hoping desperately
for some water and a banana pellet.
The other possibility is that there may not be two timelines after all -- Cornelius and Zira may have had incorrect information. More "Aldo-friendly" historians could have edited the history scrolls a few times in the 1300-year interim. And hey, when you think about it, 1300 years is an awfully long time, during which the apes have made very little in the way of technological progress. What were they doing, refining the art of flea combing? Genetically engineering a better banana? Sadly, it was none of these noble pursuits: they were painstakingly recreating the town of Bedrock. It took a long time to figure out how to make those crazy houses.

The only problem with this second possibility is that it robs the ending of Battle of a lot of its power. If everything Caesar has done is undone, what's the point? But this is all just speculation, and the secrets of how the Planet of the Apes got from one point to the other became lost when the series ended with this film. As the little jive-talking girl tells the Lawgiver (John Huston made up as an ape!) at the end of the movie:

"Who knows the future, Lawgivah?"

Review date: 03/05/2001

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