Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Movies You Already Should've Seen: BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES

at 1:00 PM
PSYCHO had to be put on hold due to technical difficulties, so the pickup movie for the week is the finale of the original Planet of the Apes saga. Sigh. No offense intended to Alfred Hitchcock and associates.

BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (1973)
Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Written by: John William Corrington and Joyce Hooper Corrington; story by Paul Dehn; characters by Pierre Boulle

BFTPOTA in one sentence:
Yourself: It would seem the poster artist is the only one who figured out we wanted to see apes fighting the actual Army.

Golem: A final climactic battle to decide the fate of mankind, or maybe just have a dopey skirmish.

Here's a story about me and BFTPOTA:
Yourself: This series has been surprisingly interesting. I can't think of another franchise that comes this far afield in five installments or in five years, let alone in five installments in five years.

Golem: While watching BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, I was consistently engaged (if confused). The next day, I had no reflections on it. I can't think of another film that has had so little effect on me.

Get the plot bitching out of your system:
Yourself: It would be senseless to even begin to describe how out-of-continuity this movie is. It adds up with basically nothing we've seen set before or after. Considering how thoroughly CONQUEST mangled the story and knowing that this is the endpoint anyway, it's hard to care. Jesus. I'm still not over the plague of cats and dogs thing.

Unfortunately, the setup is reliant enough on a continuity that doesn't exist that it interferes with the otherwise extremely simple story. There is nothing to lead me to believe we're looking at the final apes and humans on earth except that one character says it, so why is everyone so eager to go to war? I can see Central City being nuked to quell the uprising from last movie, but you're telling me so was every other city and town in the world? What? Why and how? Isn't the story of how we blew it all up more interesting that Caesar's petty saga of hiding in the trees and covering his ears? Correct me if I'm wrong, but the premise of this series is "what if apes were mankind", not "aren't apes way more interesting than humans and don't you wish humans would just die already so we can get ape stories?" While we're at it, why is "Ape City" so sucky? We see that plenty of the old city's technology still works, and even the assumption that apes reject human tech doesn't fit with their use of guns, English, and, apparently, general relativity. Can't they build a proper house or at least work steel? And was Caesar's "revolt" really such a success if, of all the ape slaves in the entire world, only like a hundred survived? That's not really an ape conquest. If I were a human living in Ape City I'd be like hey seriously fuck you guys.

Still, low expectations (and budgets) taken into account the only genuine disappointment in BATTLE is the lack of a series' trademark shockingly dark ending. You might consider humans and apes living in harmony to be shockingly dark, but I'd say it adds to the inconsequential TV-episode feel of the film. And god knows it doesn't provide any closure to our ongoing arc. The happily-ever-after frame is set in 2670 AD, still 1300 years before the events of the first movie. Come on, this is the franchise that blew up the planet in the second installment! Rock the boat a little for Christ's sake.

Golem: Yourself told me that this section isn't literally just for bitching. But then, what else is there to do with BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES? At first, the editing holds together well enough, but after our protagonists escape the Central City ruins, scenes stop sticking together. Are the rude jump cuts there to indicate parallel time? Then why are things so different as we jump back and forth? Does it really take 30 seconds to report intelligence on the ape city? How long does it take Cornelius to die? It's just hard to gather sufficient context sometimes. The film isn't hopeless or broken, just really, really rough around the edges.

(Irrelevant note: I just saw AIRPLANE!, where the presses run off newspapers to report on a plane in crisis mid-flight. That's the sense of time distortion that I got from BATTLE.)

Even then, I don't feel great with the plot elements that do properly flow. An Ape City party travels to Central City to unearth historical tapes from Caesar's parents. The scene is played without any ceremony. We already know what's going to happen, so the important part is Caesar's reaction, which we get disappointingly little of. And hey, why did it take so long for MacDonald to bring those tapes to his attention anyway?

And any roughness in the plot is hard to excuse because so much of it is a toned down, less cool version of BENEATH. The one thing BATTLE has going for it is the inner conflict of Ape City humans and Ape City apes, which sadly gets lost in the complexity of the film.

Maybe the best part is Caesar using a water hose to hold back Central City guards. Crossing the Rubicon, indeed!

The aesthetic is basically:
Yourself: The rugged, Tarzan-like feel to the ape village comes through much better in interiors and nighttime shots, because the grassy and sparingly forested shooting location looks like my parents' backyard.

The shadowy scenes set beneath the ruins preserve the gunmetal, mechanical, claustrophobic look of the city itself. They are not better or worse than the spacey expansive tunnels of BENEATH, but certainly more appropriate for the new gritty continuity.

Golem: I wondered if the desert shots were supposed to evoke the first film. Aside from the above, the aesthetic is also defined by humanity's declining fashion sense and the increase in unconvincing ape suits.

Performances to speak of?
Yourself: It's kinda funny to think that in a franchise called "Planet of the Apes" it's been two full movies since we had an ape civilization or anything resembling a new ape character. So I was pretty darn thrilled just to be watching apes in their natural [future hyper-evolved] habitat. My new favorite would have to be Mandemus, the Yoda-like guardian of the armory who ties up visitors with an endless stream of pointless questions. The new gorilla villain Aldo was a fun blowhard too, even if I can't tell him apart from BENEATH's equivalent.

This is not any one performer's fault, but I found it hilariously bold that the filmmakers would send humans playing apes climbing up trees. Twice. I mean normally I just forget that we're supposed to be seeing apes, but watching a person kinda sorta try to affect a simian manner of climbing calls attention to it in a really bad way.

Golem: Here we have our first ape child. (We skipped over Caesar's childhood, after all.) Caesar's son, Cornelius, plays a pivotal role, fitting well in a cheesy film. His innocent approach to topics such as war come off as genuine, even in a staged kind of way, if that makes any sense. His hapless discovery of Aldo's plot does have a tragic hint to it, making for one of the scenes that did end up gripping me. His pleading is creepy.

A really cool shot or scene:
Yourself: There's a ROAD WARRIOR-esque sequence where the human army and its salvaged machinery trek out of the dead city across the desert. It relies on a matte painting as ridiculous as many we've seen in the series, but I still like the design of the twisted metal hulk birthing this lumbering misfit convoy led by a school bus. It really embodies the mutant nature of the humans clinging to their past existence, clashing with the fresh, idyllic air of Ape City. Sadly, the "army" looks a lot more budget-priced in the battle scenes.

Golem: Tons of shots inside Central City use the ol' dutch angle. Tight corridors make for long shots. The entire sequence builds tension with dramatic irony (you can see the governor order attacks on an unsuspecting Ape City party), and it comes to a head while the Ape City party wanders through a hallway of sickly people. They're all laying down in cramped bunks, and it's hard to tell why. Are they just resting? Are they sick? Why do they just let the intruders through? That last question in particular lingers for a while before a guard leaps out of the mass and assaults the Ape City crew. The layering of "why are things this way?" and "when will they attack already?" really got me.

What does it all really mean?
Yourself: This is far removed from anything resembling science fiction, but we're at least back to ape history running a course tragically parallel to man's. We see from the classroom introduction that the tension between Aldo and Caesar ultimately leading to the broach of the Main Ape Rule ("Ape does not kill ape") stems from the treatment of humans. Inequality fucks up their society and Caesar is punished for believing his own noble goals can iron out the wrinkles.

Golem: The urge to kill is inherent to life. Is it better to be Aldo, who lives in perfect awareness of his urges? Or should we be Caesar, who suppresses them and in the process lies to himself?

Note to future self on watching BFTPOTA:
Yourself: It was nice to be reminded of the joy of apekind. That alone raises this above the previous two movies, which felt tonally detached from the gonzo fun where the franchise started. While BATTLE doesn't have the means to reach nearly as high as it wants, it at least has the right spirit.

Golem: I'm not going to put this movie in the gonzo range, but apes are fun to watch. The joy of this movie is almost entirely in watching it. It's fleeting, but good while it lasts.

Come back next week to find out what Greg and Greg think of I'm gonna be pissed if it's not PSYCHO.

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