Like Escape before it, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes requires a bit of imagination to get going. In a mere 20 years since the events of the previous film, humans have managed to domesticate and enslave the ape populace. Circus owner Armando (Ricardo Montalban) has barely aged a day in two decades, and the population explosion of apes seems to double that of humans.
That is a lot to take, further straining the credibility of the series, but more importantly, allows for the set up of the ape rebellion. Written by Paul Dehn (who wrote all of the sequels), Conquest is a strong, powerful parable on race relations and slavery. In its original, uncut form (included on this Blu-ray) the film carries a weight lacking in the sanitized, friendlier theatrical cut.
Ceaser’s passionate speech while the film’s characterized, hardly subtle villain Breck (Don Murray) lies at his feet is wonderful. Brutal, hard violence, filled with blood and gore, dominate the battle. Breck is not spared, but slaughtered by the gorillas. This is the ending that should have been included from the start, but Fox, understandably more concerned with their financial woes, went with the kinder, gentler finale for its initial theatrical run.
J. Lee Thompson directs in this, his only Apes credit. He uses a significant level of handheld camera work, becoming increasingly erratic as the film moves on. Establishing shots of the current society, dominated by authority figures keeping the apes in line, are low on scale, but effective in execution.
The slashed budget by the studio means Conquest is unable to breathe as freely as it would like. Locations are few, and the ape masks, not appliances, return from Beneath. The latter are handled better, kept deep into the frame and even in the dark. There is a cheapness about the film which unfortunately dilutes the message, but McDowall’s powerful, emotional speech about the reasoning behind his rebellion is almost enough to salvage the entire thing. It is a shame how sloppily edited this was in the theatrical cut.
The rebellion itself, shot mostly in low light situations, is where Conquest unfortunately fails to deliver. Black levels do not hold, the murky, flat quality to these scenes a disappointment. At times, it can be hard to see what is going on, likely a means of disguising the weaker masks and limited scale, not a fault of the transfer.
While nearly all limited lighting scenes carry this same quality, everything else generally looks excellent. Facial textures, both of humans and ape, are superb. Stubble and hair are fully defined, and the environments reveal concrete texture cleanly. Grain is more pronounced than in previous films, adequately contained by the AVC encode. No scenes show significant artifacting.
Some high contrast edge ringing is noted, especially apparent during Armando’s first interrogation by Breck around 16:38. Colors are bright, especially the dominant red slave uniforms of the gorillas. Flesh tones are accurate, and everything carries a consistent, nice film-like quality, the first time that can be said for these films.
New composer Tom Scott provides the score, which this DTS-HD effort holds together nicely. Crescendos are clear, with limited distortion. Armando’s jump from a window, backed by a frantic, forceful audio que, sounds great. A minimal level of the score hits the low end smoothly, if not aggressively.
Dialogue and various ape grunts are flat, lacking clarity. However, all conversations are concise, and not difficult to make out. Gunfire is significantly muffled, and undoubtedly pulled from a stock library of sound effects.
Ape gatherings typically feature grunts and howls in all channels, the effect lacking in directionality, but providing a small level of immersion. The rebellion does the same, although gunfire can be distinct, especially in the front channels which are split nicely.
An uncompressed isolated score is included, as with previous films in this Blu-ray debut. Riots and Revolutions is a another fine making of, this one running 21-minutes. A Look Behind the Planet of the Apes is a vintage featurette hosted by Charlton Heston that concerns itself with the original film. It’s only connection to Conquest is the year of release, 1972.
J. Lee Thompson Directs is a brief one minute collection of footage captured from the set. Five different galleries, a trailer, and D-Box support are left.