Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 3, 2006)
When 1972’s Conquest of the Planet of the Apes concluded, we left the Earth in turmoil. Led by Caesar (Roddy McDowall), the apes revolted against their human oppressors. Based on its title, you might expect that 1973’s Battle for the Planet of the Apes picks up right at the conclusion of its predecessor.
But you’d assume incorrectly, as it actually leaps forward a few years. We discover that man and ape fought a horrible war that left the Earth devastated. Caesar desires a society in which both sides can co-exist, so he runs a little commune where he attempts to achieve those goals.
However, not all goes smoothly. As exemplified by General Aldo (Claude Akins), the gorillas don’t like this hippie lifestyle and want to fight some more. They resent the humans and want to be firmly in charge. This seems like it’ll inevitably lead to conflict.
In the meantime, Caesar’s human counterpart MacDonald (Austin Stoker) tells him they could find evidence of the Earth’s future in a decimated, radioactive city. Since these recordings show Caesar’s long-dead parents, he wants to see them. Along with resident intellectual orangutan Virgil (Paul Williams), they launch an expedition to retrieve these artifacts.
When they arrive there, we discover that some humans survive in the radiation. Led by Governor Kolp (Severn Darden), their forces pursue our crew. MacDonald and the apes escape but Kolp sends his soldiers to “exterminate” them. The movie follows the assault by Kolp and his men as well as internal struggles related to the militaristic Aldo.
Battle seems to be the most reviled of the Apes series. Perhaps the 10 minutes added to this extended cut improved it, or maybe I just expected so little that it couldn’t help but be better than anticipated. Whatever the case, I didn’t find it to offer a poor experience.
Not that I’d refer to Battle as a great movie. It comes across as watchable but forgettable and also something of a missed opportunity. I can’t help but think a film about the cataclysmic war would have been more interesting than this look at the aftermath. I expect cost had a lot to do with it, as a massive conflict would be much more expensive than the limited scope of this movie’s story. Nonetheless, the bigger canvas would have been more interesting.
Battle also might have been more compelling without the elements related to the mutated humans. They exist for little reason other than to show warfare. The movie could have pursued the internal conflicts between gorillas, chimps and humans to better effect. Yeah, those elements play a role, but they get lost among Kolp and his mutants.
Coulda, woulda, shoulda – all of that becomes irrelevant, I suppose. The final result on the screen doesn’t fail, but it doesn’t soar either. The best parts of Battle come toward the end. Some elements of the mutant/ape fight are good, and a final confrontation between Caesar and Aldo also has its elements. I could live without the “view from the future” offered by an out-of-place John Huston as the Lawgiver, though, and the whole ending seems too PC to be palatable.
All of this leaves Battle as a resolutely mediocre Apes flick. There’s enough of interest to keep the viewer reasonably involved, but there’s not enough to make the movie memorable or special. It closes the series on a flat note.
Note that this DVD offers an extended version of Battle. It runs about 10 minutes longer than the 86-minute theatrical edition. I never saw Battle before I received this DVD, so I can’t specify the changes via my own experiences. However, I checked elsewhere and it appears that most of the additions come from extensions to existing scenes. The main new sequences revolve around a nuclear weapon and its potential deployment.