Even before the meaning of that phrase was clear to me, my 12-year-old self felt their rising presence back in 1972, as I sat in the Kings Plaza Theatre in Brooklyn, New York, watching Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. Marketing-wise, 20th Century Fox had certainly done its job. It began with one-sheet posters announcing the forthcoming film, followed by the theatrical trailer and, of course, television commercials, all heralding “the revolt of the apes.”
It wasn’t all that necessary to prime the Apes pump for me, as I’d become enamored with the film series right from the release of the original Planet of the Apes in 1968 (even at age eight, there was no question in my mind that something special was there), and its first two sequels, 1970’s Beneath the Planet of the Apes and 1971’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes. By the time of Conquest’s release, Cornelius, Zira, and all the rest had become part of my pop-culture obsessions, joining the ranks of James Bond, Superman, the Universal Monsters, and Barnabas Collins. Caesar, in inspiring a revolution on the planet of the apes, was invited to the gang.
Conquest genuinely impacted on me, particularly Roddy McDowall’s portrayal of Caesar, a character entirely different than the actor’s Cornelius had been in previous films. Even back then, I recognized him as someone who was in a state of innocence at the outset, but who evolved over the course of the movie into a savior to his “people,” whom he set free during the so-called “Night of the Fires.” I was blown away by Caesar’s speech during the closing moments, which was unbelievably powerful as he laid down, point by point, his goals for the soon-to-be-free fellow simians. If you haven’t seen it recently, go back to watch McDowall’s performance — it’s electric, despite the fact that he has to convey it all through makeup.
Yet as great as that sequence is, it also marks the rising of the aforementioned red flags. It begins when a female chimpanzee named Lisa looks at Caesar and somehow utters the word “No,” which, in turn, seems to trigger a complete change of heart in Caesar. The fury is gone from his voice, the fire from his words. The city burns, with human bodies lying everywhere, and Governor Breck sprawled before him, death seemingly imminent at the butt-end of gorilla-held rifles. Yet at that moment, at the very height of the revolt, Caesar apparently decides to go Gandhi on humanity, proclaiming that if man is to be dominated, then it should be with compassion and understanding.
This would have been the perfect moment for Gary Coleman to pop up and ask, “What’chu talkin’ ‘bout, Caesar?”
Of course, at the time, I had no idea that test audiences were turned off by the movie’s original cut, nor that series producer Arthur P. Jacobs – who worried that the filmmakers were on the verge of losing the much-coveted family audience who had flocked to see the previous films – working in conjunction with 20th Century Fox, had decided to tone down the violence. This resulted in Caesar’s change of heart and the desperate editing done to hide the fact that McDowall’s voice had been badly dubbed over some previously shot footage.
This reversal didn’t matter much at the time, because it was all wrapped it up with Caesar’s statement, “Tonight, we have seen the birth of the planet of the apes.” And that was more than enough to send a chill up the spines of Apes fans everywhere.
In a sense, it felt like the Apes saga had come full-circle — that Conquest could have faded out with Caesar standing there while human civilization burned, and then faded up with Charlton Heston’s arrival on a planet of apes some two thousand years in the future, as seen in the 1968 original. That would have been perfect, but instead, a year later, we were given the fifth and final installment in the series, Battle for the Planet of the Apes. Battle ultimately raised more questions than it answered and, as far as I was concerned, should have been called Red Flags on the Planet of the Apes.
Set several years after Conquest, Battle picks up aftera nuclear war has decimated much of the population, and the first generation of Beneath’s mutants are residing underground with the Alpha-Omega Bomb in what would seem to be Los Angeles (and not New York, as they would be in the second film). Simultaneously, the apes have moved into the forest, built a city in the trees, and inexplicably acquired the power of speech only one generation following Caesar’s uprising. Some, like Virgil, have proved as eloquent as Caesar, while others, such as the gorilla Aldo, tend to grunt their words. Governor Breck and his aide, MacDonald, are dead, and the latter’s brother is now Caesar’s most trusted confidant. In essence, a lot has happened in those years between films, and viewers are left with the distinct feeling that an entry in the series has gone missing. It’s a fun film, sure, but it raises a lot of red flags.
This is where Revolution on the Planet of the Apes comes in, bridging the gap between the films and filling in some of the holes for viewers. Suddenly, after all these years, those red flags are finally lowered.
Published by Metallic Rose Comics (Mr. Comics) between 2005 and 2006, the six-chapter story for Revolution was written by Ty Templeton and Joe O’Brien. The miniseries commences with “The End of the World,” illustrated by Salgood Sam, which opens with a text prologue encapsulation of the twenty-two years prior, beginning with the disappearance of George Taylor’s spacecraft, the Icarus, and its return two years later with Doctors Cornelius, Zira, and Milo onboard.
We learn that the virus that killed all dogs and cats (as discussed by Cornelius in Escape) has come to pass, as has the notion of apes becoming the new pets and eventual slaves to humanity, with simians out-numbering humans three to one. (This, of course, recalls a red flag going all the way back to Escape, though – given that Cornelius had laid out all of this so distinctly while being interrogated, why on Earth would anyone proceed to replace cats and dogs with apes?)
The Planet of the Apes films are strong on social commentary, and Revoluton continues this trend. Arthur Trundy is elected President of the United States, running on the platform of “Manifest Human Superiority,” which culminates in the U.S. Constitution being amended to drive home the point that the human species is superior to all other creatures on Earth. As Trundy rises in power, the country moves with him toward dictatorship, with the Pentagon taking control of the media and all private broadcasts being deemed illegal. Thus is born the American News Network (ANN), a government-run cable channel modeled after Fox News and other biased TV networks.
It is into this environment – with slave apes making up the work force – that Caesar and Armando enter at the outset of Conquest, and in which the events of that film play out. The story cuts to the bedroom of pirate video blogger Chris Leung, who watches an unauthorized broadcast of Caesar’s speech on the Internet (interestingly, both the Internet and blogging seem to have developed decades earlier under the fascist regime than they have in the real world). His father refutes everything being shown, refusing to believe that an ape can talk – mirroring the apes’ reaction to Taylor’s speaking ability in the original film – but is proven wrong when a gorilla bursts in through the living room window, killing the man and his wife.
Caesar, meanwhile, awakens in what seems to be a hotel room, with Lisa sleeping by his side, after experiencing his father’s memories of Earth being destroyed. This establishes a major aspect of this storyline: because Caesar was conceived prior to Earth’s destruction but was in the womb during the journey backwards in time, his brain was somehow affected so that he has memories of both the past and the future. In essence, Caesar exhibits mental abilities beyond those of normal apes or men. In this way, the writers begin to lower one of the biggest red flags raised by Conquest: namely, Caesar’s inexplicable ability to inspire rebellious attitudes among other apes, seemingly by his mere presence. More on that later.
The comic establishes that Breck is still alive, and is being held as a prisoner. MacDonald, the one human whom Caesar continues to respect, frequently appears by his side in New Ape City (the former San Diego). For his part, MacDonald still attempts to reason with Caesar, as though he has any chance of talking down this revolution (which, of course, he doesn’t).
At the White House, President Trundy receives a visit from a discredited, wheelchair-bound scientist, Doctor Karl Reich. The scientist offers a disturbing theory that Caesar views the world non-linearly, always knowing his own destiny, which shakes Trundy’s confidence. “Past, future, action, reaction,” Reich explains. “The mechanism of casualty may mean nothing to such a mind. He may approach every choice as merely a path to a predetermined outcome.” He also has a monkey crawling around his shoulders at all times – Reich literally has the proverbial monkey on his back, representing the burden of knowledge that is his alone.
Reich’s words are juxtaposed with powerful images showing Caesar demanding order and law by any means necessary. But as he’s about to crack open the skull of a belligerent gorilla with a slab of concrete that he quickly drops, Caesar proclaims the first law: “Ape shall not kill ape.” This is an important moment, as it shows that Caesar is already attempting to change the future, and to take a more peaceful approach in the hope of altering Earth’s seemingly inevitable destruction. Caesar’s final speech during Conquest’s theatrical ending seems less jarring as a result, as the comic melds Caesar’s violent nature with his peaceful intent. Another red flag lowered.
Part one ends with a shift to Hasslein Air Force Base and the lab of one Doctor Constantine. Aldo, a gorilla servant from the base’s cleaning staff (and later the fifth film’s brutish antagonist), is led into a chamber, where he is to be strapped to a chair with electrodes attached to his brain, like other gorillas already present. But to the shock of his human handlers, he utters the word spoken to him time without number: “No!” The ape repeatedly grunts the word while brutally beating to death his handlers and, presumably, Constantine. It’s a pivotal moment, smoothing out a continuity error between the third and fourth movies. In Escape, Cornelius claims that Aldo is revered as the first ape to say “no,” and yet both Caesar and Lisa precede him in Conquest. Revolution shows Cornelius’s account to be mostly accurate (aside from the utterance occurring hundreds of years sooner than stated). Another red flag eliminated.
Following the main story is the first entry in “Caesar’s Journal,” a series of backup features offering the chimp’s longhand observations, written in the hope of preserving the early days of the world’s new history. This first entry is dated three days following the Night of the Fires, firmly establishing the comic’s setting. The journals provide insightful glimpses into Caesar’s inner thoughts, showing us his hopes, concerns, and insecurities. We learn that he fears mankind’s reprisals, but has taken human hostages as a precaution, providing a plausible reason why the U.S. government didn’t re-take the city following Conquest’s revolt (red flag down). Each issue’s journal is spotlighted by illustrations from Bernie Mireault, which intriguingly show Caesar’s sketched portraits of apes drawn in various styles reminiscent not only of John Chambers’ award-winning on-screen makeup, but also artwork from Mr. Comics’ predecessors, Marvel and Malibu Comics. Could Caesar, in dreaming the future, have foreseen the events of those stories as well?
Finally, the issue wraps up with a short Ty Templeton tale illustrated by Attila Adorjany. Titled “For Human Rights,” it takes place three years prior, at a presidential rally for a campaigning Trundy, who conveys to a crowd his desire to ensure that simians remain subservient to humans:
Out in San Francisco, they’re teaching gorillas to talk with “sign language.” They say these apes can ask for things. Give me a banana. I want a shot of rum. Next thing they ask for is a book to read. Once they ask for things, they’re going to ask for the vote. It happened before with women. And Blacks. And the Chinese. And those were positive steps for human rights, but we have to stop the liberals before they give our country away to the animals.
The thinly veiled racism (not to mention misogyny) of Trundy’s speech fits well with Conquest’s Civil Rights Movement parallels, creating a dystopian vision of the United States that (aside from ape servants) is not that dissimilar to where some might say the nation is currently headed. It’s easy to believe that in such a political climate, someone like Breck, with his fascist policies and his unconstitutional title of “His Excellency,” could rise to the rank of governor.
As the rally gets underway, an angry Chris Leung attempts to assassinate Trundy. However, a nearby gorilla senses his actions and attacks, saving Trundy’s life but ultimately being shot dead by the Secret Service. Trundy refuses to recognize that the ape was protecting him, or that a fellow human was the would-be killer. The revelation that Leung, a protagonist in the miniseries, had once tried to assassinate a presidential-hopeful is surprising and effective. That being said, although Trundy’s blindness to reality is intriguing, this aspect of the scenario being laid out – that Trundy ran on an anti-simian agenda – falls a little flat. While it’s true that the Apes films, particularly Conquest, were seen by many as an allegory for black and white relations of that time period, this notion that humans would need to guard themselves against apes by drawing comparisons between them and women, blacks, and Chinese is a bit dopey, unless the collective IQ of Americans has dropped dramatically by the time of this story’s setting.
TO BE CONTINUED….
 At least until the Blu-ray version of the movie restored the original ending, replacing Caesar’s sudden change of heart with a much more violent, bloody revolt and closing speech befitting the rest of the film’s grim tone
 It should be noted that the span of time between Taylor’s 1972 launch and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (set in 1991) is only nineteen years.