Match Cuts: “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes”

Match Cuts: “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” (photo)

Posted by on

In Match Cuts, we examine every available version of a film, and decide once and for all which is the one, definitive cut worth watching. This week, in honor of the new “Planet of the Apes” movie “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” we’re looking at fourth film in the original series, J. Lee Thompson’s “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.”

-Theatrical Cut (1972): 86 minutes
-Unrated Cut (2008): 87 minutes

At the end of the second “Apes,” “Beneath the Planet of the Apes,” the Earth of the far future is destroyed. In the third film, “Escape From the the Planet of the Such and Such,” two surviving talking chimps and their baby are thrown back in time to the 1970s. At first, they’re hailed as celebrities, but later they’re considered portends of a future where man is enslaved by beast. Humanity hunts and kills the chimps, but their baby is saved by a kindly circus man with a death wish named Armando (Ricardo Montalban).

Ten years later, every dog and cat on Earth is wiped out by a virus. Lonely, stupid humans replace them with apes, then make the apes slaves when they turn out to be highly intelligent and easily trainable. Eight years after that — holy lord, the premise of this movie is complicated — Armando and the grown baby chimp Caesar (Roddy McDowell) take their travelling circus to the capital city of the totalitarian military state of the future. Caesar is horrified to discover that his ape brethren are treated like slaves, and after he lets fly some angry words (“Lousy human bastards!”), Armando is arrested. Hiding out amongst the ordinary gorillas and chimps at “Ape Management” where slaves are trained (i.e. tortured and conditioned), he forments plans to strike back the cruel men who took his adopted father away from him.

All of the “Planet of the Apes” films are major bummers but “Conquest” is bleak even by the downbeat standards of the rest of the series. The entire conflict between man and ape works as a thinly veiled metaphor for the racial strife of the late 1960s, as the predominantly white skinned forces of the government repress and mistreat a class of slaves. Loaded imagery abounds: boats from Africa, slave auctions, police in riot gear, and so on. All of this was still a fairly touchy subject back in 1972, as was the content of its original ending, in which the apes strike back at their human oppressors in violent and bloody fashion. Test audiences reacted to the horrifying finale with — what else? — horror, but out of fear that their film was too bleak and too bloody to be commercial, 20th Century Fox recut “Conquest” to secure a PG rating and improve its chances at the box office. A few years ago, when “Conquest” was released on Blu-ray as part of a “Planet of the Apes” box set, the original “Unrated Cut” of the film was included as a bonus feature.

To get that all-important PG rating, the studio removed just about any shot that featured splattering blood from the nearly 30-minute long ape uprising that concludes “Conquest.” That includes one memorable and disturbing moment, available in the Unrated Cut, in which Governor Breck (Don Murray), the evil, turtleneck-wearing overlord of this dystopian future, makes a vain attempt to prove his superiority over the rebelling apes by grabbing one of his command center’s gorilla servants and shooting him in the face.

Both versions of “Conquest” conclude with the apes successfully overrunning Ape Management, and grabbing Breck and his goons. Caesar stands before the defeated humans and his assembled ape troops and delivers an impassioned speech about his plan for the future. “From this day forward,” he yells, “my people will crouch and conspire and plot and plan for the inevitable day of Man’s downfall — the day when he finally and self-destructively turns his weapons against his own kind! The day of the writing in the sky, when your cities lie buried under radioactive rubble! When the sea is a dead sea, and the land is a wasteland out of which I will lead my people from their captivity! And we will build our own cities in which there will be no place for humans except to serve our ends!” Meanwhile, the lone voice of reason from humankind, Breck’s African-American assistant MacDonald (Hari Rhodes) pleads with Caesar for mercy as “a descendant of slaves.”

In 1972, audiences next watched Caesar make a stunning about face: seconds after giddily describing a future in which humanity is enslaved to apes, he decides to listen to MacDonald. He gives a second speech, reversing most of what he’d just said. “Now we will put away out hatred,” he says. “Now we will put down our weapons. We have passed through the Night of the Fires. And who were our masters are now our servants. And we, who are not human, can afford to be humane. Destiny is the will of God. And, if it is man’s destiny to be dominated, it is God’s will that he be dominated with compassion and understanding. So, cast out your vengeance. Tonight, we have seen the birth of the Planet of the Apes!”

Good to know Caesar knows the title of the film. This ending was, frankly, a cop out designed to placate audiences who were unprepared for a movie that championed humanity’s downfall. The original ending on the Unrated Cut is significantly less hopeful and significantly less confused:

One other small but important difference between the two cuts: Caesar is swayed from his bloodlust by MacDonald and an ape slave named Lisa (Natalie Trundy). In the Theatrical Cut, Lisa pleads “No” at the decisive moment, making her the first normal ape to speak on the Planet of the Apes. In the Original Cut, Lisa looks on sadly but doesn’t vocally object as Caesar orders Breck to his death. So the Theatrical Cut shows that the apes are osmotically learning language from Caesar, while the Original Cut leaves the question of how the apes pick up speech for future films.

Lastly, “Conquest”‘s alternate versions IMDb page is incorrect: the Unrated Cut on Blu-ray (at least the Unrated Cut on the Blu-ray I have) does not begin with a pre-credits sequence in which an escaped ape slave is hunted and killed by police. Both versions begin identically: with the credits over apes learning menial tasks like shining shoes and pouring drinks. Not sure where the info on IMDb comes from — “Conquest”‘s Wikipedia page verifies that the alternate intro was in the script, but never made it into the finished film.

The Unrated Cut. The Theatrical Cut has a certain lunatic charm, though, since trying to fashion an upbeat ending out of full-on racial warfare is a fool’s errand. A plausible non-violent finale might have been possible, but it would have required massive reshoots that the film could not afford. Instead they just had McDowell redub his lines and inserted them over extreme close-ups or wide shots so audiences couldn’t tell that Caesar’s lips didn’t match his words. But while Caesar is ordering his soldiers to treat the humans humanely, he’s standing, sweaty and manic, in front of his broiling inferno. That’s an appropriate backdrop for the crazy brutal ending, but not for the last minute mercy ending.

There isn’t that much different about the two versions. One runs 86 minutes with less blood and more thematic backpedalling; the other runs 87 minutes with ape headshots, bloody human carcasses, and an antihero who finishes what he starts. Still, the Unrated Cut is preferable. Conquest should not be cheerful. If you have a movie about apes kicking the shit out of humankind, you might as well go all the way with it. The full scope of the violence and the uncensored hatred of Caesar’s message really brings home the darkness of this story and the “Planet of the Apes” franchise as a whole. There’s nothing happy about these movies. They work best when the studio keeps their stinking paws off the editor.

Both versions of “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” are available on a single-disc Blu-ray. Which version of “Conquest” is your favorite? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

Watch More

Weird Roles

Anthony Michael Hall’s Most Rotten Movies

Catch Anthony Michael Hall in Weird Science on Friday at 8P on IFC.

Posted by on
Photo Credit: Universal/Everett Collection

Anthony Michael Hall was the quintessential ’80s nerd. We love him in classics like The Breakfast Club and National Lampoon’s Vacation. But even the brainiest among us has his weak spots. In honor of Weird Science airing this Rotten Friday, we analyze Hall’s worst movies.

Weird Science (1985) 56%

A low point for John Hughes, Weird Science is way too wacky for its own good. Anthony Michael Hall’s Gary and his pal Wyatt (Ilan Mitchell-Smith) create the “perfect woman.” Supernatural chaos ensues. The film costars a young Bill Paxton, floppy disks, and a general disconnect from all reality.

The Caveman’s Valentine (2001) 46%

This ambitious drama starring Samuel L. Jackson couldn’t live up to its rich premise. Jackson plays Romulus, a Juilliard-educated, paranoid schizophrenic who lives in a cave. Hall co-stars as Bob, a rich man, who wants to see Romulus play the piano. The plot centers around Romulus investigating a murder, but with so much going on, the movie never quite finds its rhythm.

All About the Benjamins (2002) 30%

Ice Cube plays a bounty hunter who teams up with Mike Epps’ con man to catch diamond thieves. Hall plays Lil J, a small-time drug dealer. It’s definitely a role we’ve never seen Hall in, but overall the movie isn’t funny or original enough to justify its violence.

Freddy Got Fingered (2001) 11%

This showcase for Tom Green’s goofy gross-out comedy is often hailed as one of the worst films of all time. Green plays Gord, a 20-something slacker, who dreams of having his own animated series. Hall is Dave Davidson, a CEO of an animation studio who eventually helps Gord find success. Too bad Tom Green wasn’t so lucky.

Johnny Be Good (1988) 0%

Hall plays against type as Johnny Walker, a star quarterback. Robert Downey Jr. is his best friend and Uma Thurman plays his devoted girlfriend. Despite the support of a future A-list cast, the movie lacks central conflict and charm. Or, as TV Guide put it, “Johnny be worthless.” Ouch.

Catch the “Too Rotten to Miss” Weird Science this Friday at 8P on IFC.

Watch More
Season 6: Episode 1: Pickathon

Binge Fest

Portlandia Season 6 Now Available On DVD

The perfect addition to your locally-sourced, artisanal DVD collection.

Posted by on

End of summer got you feeling like:

Portlandia Toni Screaming GIF

Ease into fall with Portlandia‘s sixth season. Relive the latest exploits of Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s cast of characters, including Doug and Claire’s poignant breakup, Lance’s foray into intellectual society, and the terrifying rampage of a tsukemen Noodle Monster! Plus, guest stars The Flaming Lips, Glenn Danzig, Louis C.K., Kevin Corrigan, Zoë Kravitz, and more stop by to experience what Portlandia is all about.

Pick up a copy of the DVD today, or watch full episodes and series extras now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

Watch More

Byrning Down the House

Everything You Need to Know About the Film That Inspired “Final Transmission”

Documentary Now! pays tribute to "Stop Making Sense" this Wednesday at 10P on IFC.

Posted by on
Photo Credit: Cinecom/courtesy Everett Collection

This week Documentary Now! is with the band. For everyone who’s ever wanted to be a roadie without leaving the couch, “Final Transmission” pulls back the curtain on experimental rock group Test Pattern’s final concert. Before you tune in Wednesday at 10P on IFC, plug your amp into this guide for Stop Making Sense, the acclaimed 1984 Talking Heads concert documentary.

Put on Your Dancing Shoes

Hailed as one of the best concert films ever created, director Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs) captured the energy and eccentricities of a band known for pushing the limits of music and performance.

Make an Entrance

Lead singer David Byrne treats the concert like a story: He enters an empty stage with a boom box and sings the first song on the setlist solo, then welcomes the other members of the group to the stage one song at a time.

Steal the Spotlight

David Byrne Dancing
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Always a physical performer, Byrne infuses the stage and the film with contagious joy — jogging in place, dancing with lamps, and generally carrying the show’s high energy on his shoulders.

Suit Yourself

Byrne makes a splash in his “big suit,” a boxy business suit that grows with each song until he looks like a boy who raided his father’s closet. Don’t overthink it; on the DVD, the singer explains, “Music is very physical, and often the body understands it before the head.”

View from the Front Row

Stop Making Sense Band On Stage
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Demme (who also helmed 1987’s Swimming to Cambodia, the inspiration for this season’s Documentary Now! episode “Parker Gail’s Location is Everything”) films the show by putting viewers in the audience’s shoes. The camera rarely shows the crowd and never cuts to interviews or talking heads — except the ones onstage.

Let’s Get Digital

Tina Weymouth Keyboard
Cinecom/Everett Collection

Stop Making Sense isn’t just a good time — it’s also the first rock movie to be recorded entirely using digital audio techniques. The sound holds up more than 30 years later.

Out of Pocket

Talk about investing in your art: Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz told Rolling Stone that the members of the band “basically put [their] life savings” into the movie, and they didn’t regret it.

Catch Documentary Now!’s tribute to Stop Making Sense when “Final Transmission” premieres Wednesday, October 12 at 10P on IFC.

Watch More
Powered by ZergNet