Despite the violence of CONQUEST OF THE PLANET OF THE APES, families showed up to the theater, creating a fourth hit APES film for Fox. With the money still coming in, Fox ordered up a fifth film, and producer Arthur Jacobs got to work putting it together.
Jacobs once again turned to writer Paul Dehn who had become his partner in the APES series, having written the scripts for the past three films. Dehn handed in a treatment that continued the series down a darker and more violent path. In his concept, the prophesized nuclear war has happened and Caesar has gone from revolutionary to ruler. Over the course of Dehn’s treatment, titled BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES, Caesar and the apes go to war with a group of mutants who have an atomic bomb. The war is horribly bloody and while the apes win, the losses are terrible. Tired of war, the apes turn on Caesar and kill him, replacing his rule with a parliament controlled by the orangutans with an army lead by the gorillas.
Both Fox and Jacobs were hesitant to move forward with Dehn’s idea. While CONQUEST had been a success, the studio was worried that the movies had become too violent. They also knew that the well was drying out, and that this would more than likely be the final APES film. With those things in mind, Jacobs and Fox agreed that this fifth film needed to be lighter than the films that came before.
Jacobs asked Dehn to create a new treatment, but Dehn had been taken ill and was unable to work on it. In the market for a new writer, Jacobs turned to John and Joyce Corrington who had recently written the Charleton Heston hit THE OMEGA MAN. Despite making their mark with the sci-fi horror film, the Corringtons weren’t really into science fiction – they had never seen a single APES film – but they took on the challenge. The couple turned in a treatment titled Epic For the Planet of the Apes which followed a similar path to Dehn’s, but with less war and a more hope. While the post nuclear war and the mutants stuck around, the Corringtons gave Caesar a family and had him working to create a world where ape and man could live together.
The Corringtons handed in their script, and with Paul Dehn healthy again, Jacobs handed it to the man who had overseen much of the universe for rewrites. Just how much Dehn’s rewrites changed the movie is debated – Dehn received a “story by” credit, but argued that he deserved to be credited as one of the writers as well, claiming that 90% of the dialogue was his, as was the ending of the film and the name, itself, since Jacobs and Fox chose to stick with BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES.
Director J Lee Thompson returned, making him the first director to do multiple APES films. For the cast, Roddy McDowall returned to play Caesar for the second time and Natalie Trundy came back as Lisa, now Caesar’s wife – this marked the fourth APES film for both of the actors. Severn Darden also returned to reprise the role of Kolp from CONQUEST. New to the cast was Austin Stoker as MacDonald, taking over the role from Hari Rhodes, Claude Akins as the gorrilla Aldo, music god Paul Williams as the orangutan Virgil, and John Huston as the fabled Lawgiver. If you keep your peepers open, you’ll also catch a cameo by director John Landis.
While Fox and Jacobs wanted a lighter APES movie, this was still an APES film, after all, so you know things will be messed up. Caesar was no longer a revolutionary leader, but now a kind leader with his edge softened by the birth of his child, a son named Cornelius. Caesar believed that man and ape could live side by side, a concept that Aldo and the gorillas weren’t feeling. While Caesar, Virgil, and Kolp are in a destroyed city looking for supplies, the young Cornelius overhears Aldo’s plans to stage a coup. Caught by the gorilla, Cornelius is killed by Aldo which, where the one law is “ape shall not kill ape” this is a pretty big deal.
Caesar and his team get spotted by the mutants while they’re in the city, leading to a mutant attack on the ape village, which the apes and non-mutated humans fight off. Shortly after that, the truth of Cornelius’ death is revealed
Still, this is an APES movie so you know things will get real messed up. When the young Cornelius spies on the gorillas as their leader Aldo plots a coup against Caesar, Aldo goes… well, ape, and kills the boy. In a world where ape shall not kill ape, this stuff doesn’t stand. After the apes and humans fight off an attack from the mutants, Caesar and Aldo face off, ending with Aldo’s death. The final scene shows apes and human children sitting together as the Lawgiver teaches them the history of the rise of the apes some six hundred years in the future. When asked if apes and humans will always live in harmony, the Lawgiver explains that he has no damn clue what the future will hold. When asked by a kid “Who knows the future?” the Lawgiver responds “Perhaps only the dead” as the camera focuses on a statue of Caesar. A single tear comes out of the eye of the statue. Was it crying out of happiness that history had been changed, or sadness because it knows that one day the apes and humans will war again? We’ll never know.
Fox publicized the movie as the final of the APES saga in hopes of driving up ticket sales and boy howdy did it work. While BATTLE FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES was the lowest grossing APES movie, it still managed to make almost 8x it’s budget. Executives at Fox quickly started to wonder if there wasn’t more money to be made off of the APES franchise.
Sadly, just twelve days after the release of CONQUEST, Arthur P. Jacobs died of heart attack. He was just 51 years old. With him, any talks of a sixth APES movie died.
After his death, Arthur Jacobs’ production company, APJAC Productions, sold the rights to the APES franchise to 20th Century Fox. When CBS aired the first three APES movies, the massive ratings convinced Fox to move away from movies and focus the future of the series on television.
Fox handed the APES franchise to Anthony Wilson and Art Wallace. The series would return to the roots of PLANET OF THE APES while making changes to fit the new medium better, focusing on two astronauts who travel into the future and end up on a planet controlled by evolved apes. Each week, Colonel Alan Virdon, played by Ron Harper, and Major Peter J. Burke, played by James Naughton, get into some wacky problem as they run from the apes who are lead by Security Chief Urko as played by Mark Lenard, best known to sci-fi fans as Sarek on STAR TREK.
Helping the two time lost astronauts is a young chimpanzee named Galen, played by Roddy McDowall.
Some of the changes the show makes from the mythology of the movies have been hard for fans to make work. The show is set a decade after the first movie, despite BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES, set a year after the first movie, ending with Earth exploding at the hands of a dying Charlton Heston. To explain this away, fans argue that the series is set in the altered timeline that Caesar created. The same answer is used to explain away why humans can talk in the future when the movies showed them as mute. While the show took place in California – as opposed to the original movie being in New York – one of the main apes is Zaius, which fans explain away as just being a common name among the apes.
The PLANET OF THE APES show was originally scheduled to air on Tuesdays, but CBS chose to move it to Fridays as counter programming against SANFORD AND SON and CHICO AND THE MAN on NBC. The counterprogramming plan didn’t work – PLANET OF THE APES was canceled after 14 episodes.
Still, Fox wasn’t ready to let the franchise go. While the rating for the live action series were weak, Fox did find that children loved it. An animated series, RETURN TO THE PLANET OF THE APES, went into production.
The animated series, about a group of astronauts who travel to the future and- …oh my goodness, are they really doing the same thing for a fourth time? Yes, they are – let’s just skip the plot.. the show’s cast brought back fan favorites Zira, Cornelius and Dr. Zaius, though they were not voiced by Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall and Maurice Evans. Nova and Brent, two other characters from the movies, also appear in the animated series (though Brent is now named Ronald Brent, not John Brent).
The animated series also gave the apes modern technology like cars and movies, items that appeared in Pierre Boulle’s novel but had never shown up in the movies or in the live action series. Fans don’t really bother trying to connect the animated series to the rest of the mythology, much to the sadness of William Apespeare.
RETURN TO THE PLANET OF THE APES lasted just thirteen episodes. When the final episode aired on NBC in 1975, 20th Century Fox closed up the APES franchise and moved on to other things – in two years before STAR WARS hit theaters and change movies forever.
For sixteen years, the APES mythology would lie mostly dormant. In the early 1990s, Malibu Comics would publish a series of APES comics, including a crossover with ALIEN NATION, but the books never gained much traction. Fox would attempt to bring APES back to theaters multiple times over the years, but fans wouldn’t get a new film until 2001, and they wouldn’t be very happy about it…