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

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

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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.”

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

THE STORY (SPOILERS AHEAD):
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.

REASON FOR MULTIPLE VERSIONS (MORE SPOILERS AHEAD):
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.

KEY DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MULTIPLE VERSIONS (EVEN MORE SPOILERS AHEAD):
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.

IF YOU ONLY WATCH ONE VERSION OF “CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES,” WATCH:
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.

Soap tv show

As the Spoof Turns

15 Hilarious Soap Opera Parodies

Catch the classic sitcom Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures Television

The soap opera is the indestructible core of television fandom. We celebrate modern series like The Wire and Breaking Bad with their ongoing storylines, but soap operas have been tangling more plot threads than a quilt for decades. Which is why pop culture enjoys parodying them so much.

Check out some of the funniest soap opera parodies below, and be sure to catch Soap Saturday mornings on IFC.

1. Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman

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Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman was a cult hit soap parody from the mind of Norman Lear that poked daily fun at the genre with epic twists and WTF moments. The first season culminated in a perfect satire of ratings stunts, with Mary being both confined to a psychiatric facility and chosen to be part of a Nielsen ratings family.


2. IKEA Heights

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IKEA Heights proves that the soap opera is alive and well, even if it has to be filmed undercover at a ready-to-assemble furniture store totally unaware of what’s happening. This unique webseries brought the classic formula to a new medium. Even IKEA saw the funny side — but has asked that future filmmakers apply through proper channels.


3. Fresno

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When you’re parodying ’80s nighttime soaps like Dallas and Dynasty , everything about your show has to equally sumptuous. The 1986 CBS miniseries Fresno delivered with a high-powered cast (Carol Burnett, Teri Garr and more in haute couture clothes!) locked in the struggle for the survival of a raisin cartel.


4. Soap

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Soap was the nighttime response to daytime soap operas: a primetime skewering of everything both silly and satisfying about the source material. Plots including demonic possession and alien abduction made it a cult favorite, and necessitated the first televised “viewer discretion” disclaimer. It also broke ground for featuring one of the first gay characters on television in the form of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. Revisit (or discover for the first time) this classic sitcom every Saturday morning on IFC.


5. Too Many Cooks

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Possibly the most perfect viral video ever made, Too Many Cooks distilled almost every style of television in a single intro sequence. The soap opera elements are maybe the most hilarious, with more characters and sudden shocking twists in an intro than most TV scribes manage in an entire season.


6. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace

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Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace was more mockery than any one medium could handle. The endless complications of Darkplace Hospital are presented as an ongoing horror soap opera with behind-the-scenes anecdotes from writer, director, star, and self-described “dreamweaver visionary” Garth Marenghi and astoundingly incompetent actor/producer Dean Learner.


7. “Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive,” MadTV

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Soap opera connoisseurs know that the most melodramatic plots are found in Korea. MADtv‘s parody Tae Do  (translation: Attitudes and Feelings, Both Desirable and Sometimes Secretive) features the struggles of mild-mannered characters with far more feelings than their souls, or subtitles, could ever cope with.


8. Twin Peaks

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Twin Peaks, the twisted parody of small town soaps like Peyton Place whose own creator repeatedly insists is not a parody, has endured through pop culture since it changed television forever when it debuted in 1990. The show even had it’s own soap within in a soap called…


9. “Invitation to Love,” Twin Peaks

invitation

Twin Peaks didn’t just parody soap operas — it parodied itself parodying soap operas with the in-universe show Invitation to Love. That’s more layers of deceit and drama than most televised love triangles.


10. “As The Stomach Turns,” The Carol Burnett Show

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The Carol Burnett Show poked fun at soaps with this enduring take on As The World Turns. In a case of life imitating art, one story involving demonic possession would go on to happen for “real” on Days of Our Lives.


11. Days of our Lives (Friends Edition)

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Still airing today, Days of Our Lives is one of the most famous soap operas of all time. They’re also excellent sports, as they allowed Friends star Joey Tribbiani to star as Dr Drake Ramoray, the only doctor to date his own stalker (while pretending to be his own evil twin). And then return after a brain-transplant.

And let’s not forget the greatest soap opera parody line ever written: “Come on Joey, you’re going up against a guy who survived his own cremation!”


12. Acorn Antiques

acorn

First appearing on the BBC sketch comedy series Victoria Wood As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques combines almost every low-budget soap opera trope into one amazing whole. The staff of a small town antique store suffer a disproportional number of amnesiac love-triangles, while entire storylines suddenly appear and disappear without warning or resolution. Acorn Antiques was so popular, it went on to become a hit West End musical.


13. “Point Place,” That 70s Show

pointplace

In a memorable That ’70s Show episode, an unemployed Red is reduced to watching soaps all day. He becomes obsessed despite the usual Red common-sense objections (like complaining that it’s impossible to fall in love with someone in a coma). His dreams render his own life as Point Place, a melodramatic nightmare where Kitty leaves him because he’s unemployed. (Click here to see all airings of That ’70s Show on IFC.)


14. The Spoils of Babylon

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Bursting from the minds of Will Ferrell and creators Andrew Steele and Matt Piedmont, The Spoils of Babylon was a spectacular parody of soap operas and epic mini-series like The Thorn Birds. Taking the parody even further, Ferrell himself played Eric Jonrosh, the author of the book on which the series was based. Jonrosh returned in The Spoils Before Dying, a jazzy murder mystery with its own share of soapy twists and turns.

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15. All My Children Finale, SNL

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SNL‘s final celebration of one of the biggest soaps of all time is interrupted by a relentless series of revelations from stage managers, lighting designers, make-up artists, and more. All of whom seem to have been married to or murdered by (or both) each other.

Brett Ratner to produce next year’s Academy Awards

Brett Ratner to produce next year’s Academy Awards (photo)

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I can see the posters now: “From the director of ‘Red Dragon’ and ‘After the Sunset’ comes a new kind of Oscars!” Yes, that’s right: Brett Ratner, he of the “Rush Hour” series and assorted other Hollywood pictures, will co-produce the 84th Annual Academy Awards with returning producer and director Don Mischer. Here’s what Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Tom Sherak had to say about his very surprising choice:

“I was so impressed with Brett when I met with him to discuss the Oscar show. He has an incredible love of film and its history and is a true student of the business of movies. He’s unbelievably creative and knows how to take risks that are both interesting and inspiring. Together with Don Mischer — who, by the way, just earned an Emmy nomination for his work on the 83rd Academy Awards — I think these two will give us a fantastic Oscar show that you won’t want to miss.”

Ratner just gave an interview to Deadline.com, in which he explains some of his motivation for taking this high-risk gig. Apparently, he’s been very vocally critical of recent Oscar telecasts and at Oscar parties he loved to tell anyone who’d listen what he’d do if the people in charge gave him the show. Finally, the people in charge decided to listen. After Sherak and new Academy CEO Dawn Hudson offered him the job Ratner says he “looked through every single telecast” and then called up Sherak and Hudson “and said, ‘I can do this.'”

I’m sure he told the producers of “X-Men: The Last Stand” the same thing.

I kid! Look, clearly the Academy is trying to broaden and diversify the audience for the Oscar telecast. This year they hired James Franco and Anne Hathaway as co-hosts, two very unconventional choices. It didn’t ultimately work out, but it was an interesting risk (it might have been a smarter risk to hire hosts with experience at stand-up comedy or public speaking, but whatever). Unconventional is exactly the word I’d use to describe Ratner’s selection here. And he certainly has made a lot of popular movies. Maybe he knows what a mass audience wants to see from the Oscars. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I do.

It’s definitely possible that Ratner will bring some new ideas to the table; based on the Academy’s statement, he got the job on the back of a very convincing sales pitch. Who knows? Maybe he will successfully bring some new eyeballs to the Academy Awards. I’m certainly curious to see what he does. Then again, I would watch the Oscars if they were broadcast from a pet store and hosted by a chinchilla.

Do you think Brett Ratner will produce a good Oscar telecast? Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

“Bellflower,” reviewed

“Bellflower,” reviewed (photo)

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A version of this review first ran as part of our coverage of South by Southwest 2011.

A broken heart feels like the end of the world. That’s the essential truth and the ingenious premise behind “Bellflower” an apocalyptic love story by Evan Glodell, a mad scientist of a filmmaker. Glodell wrote, directed, and starred in the film. He also custom built the camera he used to shoot the movie along with many of the film’s weird gadgets and weapons. Like any mad scientist worth his salt, Glodell occasionally loses control of his creation. But that’s what we like to see mad scientists do: invent something truly crazy and brilliant and watch it crash and burn. In this case, the crashing and burning is literal, courtesy the fire-spewing exhaust pipe of a muscle car called The Medusa. Glodell built that thing too. For the film’s premiere at South by Southwest, he actually drove it from Southern California to Austin.

There’s a long drive to Texas in the movie too. It’s undertaken by Woodrow (Glodell) and Milly (Jessie Wiseman) on their first date. The night before, they’d met at a bar during a bug eating contest; it’s love at first bite of cricket. Woodrow and his best bud Aiden (Tyler Dawson) spend all their days tinkering with gadgets and weapons they’re stockpiling in case the apocalypse ever comes to pass. “Mad Max” fans since they were kids in Wisconsin, they dream of the end of days, when they’ll rule the world with shotguns and flamethrowers and Medusa. They’re not necessarily violent guys; they dig destruction in the abstract. But when his relationship with Milly starts to fall apart, Woodrow finds something else to do with all those toys.

That’s the rough outlines of the narrative but a description doesn’t do the film justice, which is a good deal more than the sum of its plot threads. Synopses can’t convey the beauty of the film’s off-kilter cinematography (shot with three cameras Glodell built), the uncanny naturalism of its dialogue and performances, or the complexity of the film’s editing and sound design, which took two years for Glodell and three other editors to refine. I suspect some audiences will be turned off by a few of “Bellflower”‘s bat-shit crazy plot twists, and by the clash between the good vibrations of its first half and the ’til I die mega-bummer of its second. But the narrative’s rough-hewn quality fits the film. Apocalypses are supposed to be messy.

“Bellflower” bears obvious stylistic inspirations, but it’s a totally original and incredibly personal film; the emotions spewing out of Woodrow and Milly’s dissolution like propane from a flame thrower are so blue-hot intense, they’re borderline uncomfortable. Medusa’s a cool car, but it’s also one big honking metaphor (literally!) for a young man’s impulse to create something great and his self-destructive need to burn it all down. That’s another sign of a good mad scientist: all they leave in their wake is fire, ash, and memories seared into your brain forever.

“Bellflower” opens in limited release tomorrow. If you see it, we want to hear what you think. Tell us in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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