Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

Directed By: J. Lee Thompson

Starring: Roddy McDowall, Don Murray, Ricardo Montalbán, and Natalie Trundy

Caesar (Roddy McDowall): "The King is dead.  Long live the King!  Tell me Breck, before you die - how do we differ from the dogs and cats that you and your kind used to love?  Why did you turn us from pets into slaves?"

Breck (Don Murray): "Because your kind were once our ancestors.  Because man was born of apes, and there's still an ape curled up inside of every man.  You're the beast in us that we have to whip into submission.  You're the savage that we need to shackle in chains.  You taint us, Caesar.  You poison our guts.  When we hate you, we're hating the dark side of ourselves."

The quote above just about sums up the essence of the Planet of the Apes franchise.  Man and ape have a mutual hatred for one another that runs deep.  With the arrival of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, there have now been eight movies depicting this fictionalized ire.  While none have been more potent than the 1968 classic Planet of the Apes, few have been as blunt about the intense animosity between the two species as the 1972 film Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.  Though this fourth outing for the evolved apes is far from perfect, it definitely gets its message across.  Men and apes hate one another.

A decade after the murders of Zira and Cornelius in Escape from the Planet of the Apes, cats and dogs go extinct.  Needing a new pet, man turns to apes.  Their time as purely household pets is limited, however.  Recognizing their capacity to learn, humans begin training the apes to do menial tasks and enslaving them.  Entering a large city to advertise their circus, Armando (Ricardo Montalb├ín) and his companion chimpanzee Caesar (McDowall) witness the atrocity of enslavement first hand.  They must not react, however.  Caesar, an evolved ape, is actually Milo, the wanted son of Zira and Cornelius.  Meanwhile, the discontent enslaved apes plot a rebellion against Governor Breck (Murray) and his enforcement agency known as Ape Management.

There's a racial subtext to the original Planet of the Apes films that I've yet to address.  While I spent more time discussing the violent proclivities of mankind in my review of the very first film, it's undeniable that race is a factor there as well.  After all, Schaffner metaphorically subverts the roles of blacks and whites.  It's clear as day.  By the time we get to Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, there's no shame in director J. Lee Thompson's game.  That's not necessarily a good thing as he directly addresses these metaphors in a rather insensitive manner.  By jokingly comparing the plight of African-Americans to that of the apes on several occasions, he turns a subversive racial metaphor into an insult.  That crosses a line and taints the film for me.

Beyond this, the film is a direct result of the fact that the franchise has boxed itself in with the storylines of Beneath the Planet of the Apes and Escape from the Planet of the Apes.  The writers tinkered with time and have no choice but to play out their predictions at this stage.  While the final battle itself is certainly engaging, this strategy makes Conquest a predictable mess.  If you've seen the prior films, you're fully aware of how this is going to play out in almost every excruciating detail.  In fact, Cornelius told us so in the prior installment.  That being said, I still have one question about the film, how the hell did the humans manage to domesticate so many apes in so little time?

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes gets a 0.09% rating.  Have some whiskey sours with this one.