Conquest of the Planet of the Apes Review

The Film
How did the producers ever keep this franchise going? The budgets kept on dropping (this time a measly $1.7 million) and yet they still managed to make films with the scope of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. The story arc is well under way by now and most people can spot the entire story going full circle. Before I get into the review proper I am going to nail my colours to the mast. I like this film a lot, this is the only one I hadn’t seen before getting this box set and I was pleasantly surprised.

It is now 1991 and all cats and dogs were wiped out by a plague (don’t ask) and humans took apes as pets. Then they discovered apes were far more intelligent and therefore trained them as slaves to do their bidding. This is where we come in. There are ape waiters, ape cleaners, ape shoeshine boys, ape hairdressers etc. Armando (Montelban) is visiting the big city with Caesar (Roddy McDowall) who is the talking offspring of Zira and Cornelius. Due to a minor scuffle Armando is taken into custody and grilled about the existence of a talking ape. If such a beast exists and mates, the future Planet of the Apes could become reality. The authorities are desperate to track down Caesar and execute him. The city represented here is a police state that controls the populace with an iron hand and apes aren’t even second-class citizens. In the meantime Caesar teaches the apes to rebel against their masters, he is disgusted by the treatment dished out to his ape brothers. Eventually this leads us to a final battle between ape and human security forces. This is violent and very effective. Fox cut a huge amount of violence to make it more family-friendly and overdubbed McDowall’s last speech to make it a more hopeful ending. I don’t think this detracts too much from the ending as it stands but you can’t help but wonder what would have been.

By comparison Escape from the Planet of the Apes was a dialogue heavy film full of humour and drama in equal parts. Conquest is a very different film. The Earth of the future is a grim place; the oppressive police state is a violent place for apes. The black uniforms of the police and security forces are reminiscent of the Nazi’s. The parallel between the ape slaves and black slavery is obvious and effective. As a result the film can be heavy going as it is very dark and depressing. Unfortunately there is a rather clumsy section at the beginning of the film where Armando explains what has happened between Escape and Conquest, surely there was a better way of doing it? Luckily from there on the film goes from strength to strength all the way to the end. It should also be noted that large parts of this film have no dialogue. None of the apes (barring Caesar) can talk and therefore the planning of the rebellion is done almost completely in silence. This is a very brave and effective move. Occasionally the silent action over explains things for us but that’s about it. There is unfortunately a flaw in logic of this film and the final film in the series. How do the apes evolve so quickly? In the space of twenty years apes have evolved to look and act more human-like. They could have explained this with a simple throwaway line about genetic engineering of apes in the last twenty years. This is an unfortunate oversight that renders parts of this film unbelievable.

This film is very much a Roddy McDowall vehicle and it is well deserved. I know I say this in every apes review but McDowall is excellent. Caesar is very different to Cornelius. He is angry, rebellious and a much darker character. His speech at the end of the film is a fantastic piece of acting full of vitriol and feeling. This is McDowall's best performance in the apes' films and he seems to relish the chance to go for a darker, edgier character. Everyone else in the film is support for McDowall. Montelban is delightful as Armando, this time he has a larger part and attacks it with relish. Hari Rhodes is impressive as the token friendly human, MacDonald. Natalie Trundy is back from Escape from the Planet of the Apes except this time she is playing the ape Lisa. She is Caesars mate and this is a nicely understated performance from her.

The makeup here is of variable quality. The main ape actors look the part but the majority of the ape extras are in dodgy rubber masks. This is a sign of the tiny budget for this film and it is a shame. Also the big battle scenes could have looked more spectacular (as could the city itself) and again the blame for this can be laid squarely on the budget restrictions. This is a great shame given the quality of this film and its concept.

In conclusion Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is probably the best sequel in the series. It is darker and edgier than any of the others and its dependence on McDowall is to its credit. Given a larger budget who knows how good this film could’ve been?

The Disc

Well the discs in the evolution box set couldn’t have got any worse I suppose. As a result this disc is on a par with Escape, not a great disc but adequate. Again the menus are very nicely displayed and easy to navigate and there are 21 chapter stops.

No great surprise here, as the picture is a 2.35:1 non-anamorphic print. I am sure you are all tired of hearing me saying how disappointing it is not to get an anamorphic print. And predictably enough the non-anamorphic print is great with minimal print damage and a nice crisp clear picture. If anything this picture is as good as the Planet of the Apes disc.

The soundtrack is slightly disappointing as we are only given the original Dolby surround track. I know it’s a low budget film but this would have really benefited from a full-blown DD5.1 remix. Saying that this soundtrack is perfectly adequate and has a nice balance between the music, effects and dialogue.

Extras-wise I don’t mind telling you I am now heartily sick of the trailers on this disc, as they are identical to the ones on the other four discs. To finish it off there is a web link… pathetic.

This is an outstanding sequel that is given a mediocre disc by Fox. The non-anamorphic transfer is very good indeed but the sound is a disappointment. The extras are a joke and if it weren’t for the extra disc I would be rueing the day I bought this box set.

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