The final (and weakest) picture in the superb five-part Planet Of The Apes series, Battle centres on a war that will decide who will finally dominate the planet – humans or apes.
The story is told in flashback by the great Lawgiver (John Huston) in 2670 AD, a few decades on from the events of the previous film, Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes (1972).
The chimpanzee Caesar (Roddy McDowall) is a benevolent King presiding over apes and humans alike as they try to co-exist peacefully as equals.
The story of Cornelius and Zira – reprised through flashbacks to Escape From The Planet Of The Apes (1971) – has taken on biblical significance in ape history.
Caesar’s birth, like that of Christ, symbolises the arrival of a saviour for his people, though there are also traces of the Moses story in Caesar’s leading his people out of captivity.
Caesar is married to Lisa (Natalie Trundy), the female chimp from Conquest, and has a small son named Cornelius (Bobby Porter).
But trouble is brewing in the form of a mad gorilla general named Aldo (Claude Akins) who wants to stage a coup and start enslaving and killing humans.
This turmoil within the ape power structure leads to conflict and violence between the apes and the humans – especially the radiation affected mutants’ dwelling in what remains of the old city and led by Governor Kolp (Severn Darden).
Caesar is told by his human aide MacDonald (Austin Stoker) that some film footage of his parents still exists in the Forbidden City and he becomes curious to seek it out despite the obvious danger of such a trip.
With his scientific counsel, Virgil (Paul Williams) and MacDonald in tow, Caesar visit the old city, now flattened by a catastrophic nuclear exchange. This mission is interpreted as an act of espionage by Governor Kolp who attempts to capture them.
After seeing the tapes of his own father, Caesar escapes with his friends from the City, but the damage is done. Kolp mobilises his followers and launches an all-out war against Ape City (the “battle” of the title) – although the mutant vs. ape battle featured in the film is pitifully small scale.
The battle ends with the apes firmly in control and vowing to live in peace – in a word, the world exactly as Taylor (Charlton Heston) found it when he crash-landed there in the original movie (1968).
Battle for the Planet of the Apes was made for just $1.8 million and the low budget certainly shows – many of the extras have cheap-looking monkey masks instead of the academy-award-winning simian makeup pioneered by John Chambers in the original 1968 movie, and the film looks like it was shot in a small orchard.
There are gaping plot holes too – the apes in Conquest were grunting shuffling domesticated savages barely capable of delivering a dish of food to a restaurant dinner table, but now they can speak and have set up their own society. All in Caesar’s lifetime.
Nevertheless, Battle earned $4 million in its original release and completed the ape saga cycle – ironically so because it was Taylor’s original visit that set in motion the circumstances that allowed the three chimpanzees to escape back to California in 1973 where their son was born.
Had Caesar not been born out of his own time, he would never have led the revolt that eventually ended in the earth’s simian domination.
When director J Lee Thompson heard that the Ape City set was being surveyed by Twentieth Century Fox for possible use in a Planet Of The Apes TV series, he quipped, “I wonder if they’ll want it when I get through with it.” He then blew up the whole set during Battle‘s explosive climax.
The Hyperion Water Treatment Plant in Los Angeles was used for the subterranean scenes of Kolp’s Forbidden City and its winding, labyrinthine corridors add a welcome sense of strangeness and atmosphere after all the sequences set in the boring orchard.
J Lee Thompson