Film Review: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Release Date: June 29th, 1972 (New York City premiere)
Directed by: J. Lee Thompson
Written by: Paul Dehn
Based on: characters by Pierre Boulle
Music by: Tom Scott
Cast: Roddy McDowall, Don Murray, Ricardo Montalbán, Natalie Trundy, Hari Rhodes, Gordon Jump

APJAC Productions, Twentieth Century Fox, 88 Minutes

Review:

“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?” – Caesar

As a kid, this was my favorite Planet of the Apes movie. While it isn’t the best from an artistic standpoint and I’d say that I now like the third one best, it is still a superb origin story of how the apes rose up and pushed back against mankind.

In 2011, when they rebooted the franchise for the second time, that film took most of its cues from this story. While that film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a better picture, overall, it kind of lacked the grit of this one. A lot of that could also be due to modern films relying so much on CGI effects and pristine post-production clean up.

Regardless of that, I still enjoy watching this version of the similar story more. There’s just something about the original Apes movies that is special and unique and none of the remakes have really been able to recapture their magic.

I think the thing that I really like about this film, apart from the premise, is the look of it. Most of the big scenes take place in the heart of a metropolis and you see these apes carrying guns and burning parts of the town, as large, monolithic (and somewhat generic) skyscrapers loom overhead. It’s modern yet it’s primitive and it creates an atmosphere that shows the animalistic nature of man and ape in a world that should seem civilized and advanced. There’s a duality that exists in several layers of this picture and I’m not trying to imply that this was even done intentionally but it just adds something really genuine to the overall picture.

Additionally, Roddy McDowall has never been better in this series than he is in this chapter. The guy probably spent more time in ape makeup than any other actor, as he’s played multiple characters in the franchise but man, it’s like the other films were just there to prepare him for this stellar performance.

I also liked that Ricardo Montalbán returned for this, as the same character he played in the previous movie. He was sweet, caring and this is honestly one of my favorite roles he’s ever played after Khan Noonien Singh from the Star Trek franchise and his roles in classic film-noir movies.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is still damn entertaining and it’s certainly fucking poignant. It knows what message it wants to send and it does it incredibly well. Leaving a real uneasiness in your gut, as the darkest days for humanity lie ahead while also knowing that humanity is very much at fault.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: the four other Planet of the Apes movies from the original run, as well as the television show from the ’70s.