Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972) – J. Lee Thompson

 

The Sci-Fi Chronicles takes me back to the Planet of the Apes series again, as we take on the third sequel, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.

Set in the near future, the far distant year of 1991, the plague spoken of in the last film has struck, wiping out household pets, and smaller animals, so man has begun to domesticate chimps and apes to do their biding. They use them for menial jobs, but as their mistreatment continues, one chimp, Caesar (Roddy McDowall) leads an uprising.

Caesar is in the care of Armando (Ricardo Montalban), who has treated Caesar, the only talking ape on the planet (well, excluding humans of course), the offspring of Zira (Kim Hunter) and Cornelius (also McDowall) as an equal from the beginning, and he has a hard time tolerating the treatment of his fellows.

He is almost discovered when Caesar voices his disgust at ape treatment, and he and Armando must try and hide from those that would seek them out. Caesar finds him alone amongst his own kind.

Governor Breck (Don Murray) after a conversation with Armando (whom is held and tortured about his knowledge of a talking ape), believes that Caesar may be the talking ape that was believed killed. He and his ilk are vicious, evil, and intent on keeping the ape population under control. They do so by training, and ingraining responses through torture and repetition. Caesar ends up in Breck’s possession through an auction, and he is dangerously closed to being discovered.

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He also gets access to Breck’s world, a control center that oversees the city, and the human and ape population. It is here that he begins to create his plan.

Once again there is social commentary here, as race, abuse and exploitation are all examined, as well as the inevitable response of those repressed for far too long. This is, decidedly, the darkest of all the Apes films, and the original ending makes it much more so.

These films continue to be easy to push off as fun science fiction stories, but, like the best science fiction, there is also a message in it as well. Things that should inspire conversations about how we treat each other, and those we share the planet with.

As Caesar gathers resources, and allies, things come to a head, and Breck, and most of the human race, will find themselves on the wrong side of history as vengeance is taken.

The shortest film to date, it doesn’t waste any time in its storytelling, setting up its villains, its allies, and its frightening climax as the Apes series takes us to the fall of man, and the rise of the Apes.

McDowall, as always, is amazing, and imbues Caesar with a wealth of emotion, not an easy task under prosthetics.

There’s one more classic tale to come before we take on the modern updates.

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