In talking about the differences between the finished film and Dehn’s earlier drafts, we’re going to be getting into some of the surprises (and the endings) of the finished films. I did my best to avoid giving too much away in the Primer, but now we’re going to get a little more specific. So once again, let me just urge you to go watch the series and then come back here. They’re well worth it! Anyway, here’s your SPOILER WARNING.
The Planet of the Apes series became one of the greatest and most indelible in all science fiction thanks to the contributions of many talented men and women:
- Cast members like Charlton Heston, Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall, Maurice Evans, Linda Harrison, James Gregory, Claude Akins, Natalie Trundy, Paul Williams, and Ricardo Montalban
- Producer Arthur P. Jacobs
- Makeup genius John Chambers
- Directors Franklin Schaffner, Ted Post, Don Taylor, and J. Lee Thompson
- Writers Pierre Boulle, Rod Serling, Michael Wilson, John & Joyce Corrington
But as the writer of three out of the five films, Paul Dehn could be said to be the architect of original series. Unfortunately, due to poor health in the last years of his life (his final produced screenplay was for Sidney Lumet’s Murder On the Orient Express in 1974; he would die two years later) Dehn bowed out of writing the screenplay for the finale of the series, Battle for the Planet of the Apes. The Corringtons were brought in to replace him, and while he provided a final polish on their script, the final film differs greatly from Dehn’s original conception for the fourth sequel.
This was, of course, not the first time that Dehn’s vision for the series was changed on the way to production. His version of Beneath the Planet of the Apes was originally meant to end with the ape army and the bomb-worshiping mutants annihilating each other with the bomb under the surface of the planet, while Taylor, Brent & Nova escape to join the pacifist chimpanzees and mute humans that survived on the surface. The prospect of peace was symbolized by a final scene set in the even more distant future, with the appearance of an ape/human hybrid child (or children) in a classroom where children are learning about how Taylor brought peace to the planet. Makeup tests for the hybrid were actually shot, but the production got cold feet at the thought that human/ape miscegenation might keep them from getting their G-rating. Ironically, the removal of this element may have left the filmmakers more susceptible to the suggestion, reportedly either Charlton Heston’s or Richard Zanuck’s (out of frustration at being fired from the studio by his own father), that they just blow everything up, leaving the film with one of the bleakest endings ever given to a film supposedly intended for children.
Escape from the Planet of the Apes and Conquest of the Planet of the Apes each had their share of tweaks as they made their way through production (perhaps most significantly with the bigger-than-a-tweak change to the ending of Conquest, where the studio used audio of new dialogue and some creative re-editing of existing footage to chase Caesar’s climactic call for bloody revolution with a “but maybe not today” softener).
When it came to Battle for the Planet of the Apes, Dehn actually wrote a 68 page treament, detailing his ideas for the story of the fifth film. Reading the treatment, it becomes clear that he wanted to “close the circle” and direct the audience very clearly from the conclusion of Caesar’s story to the world that Taylor lands on in the original Planet of the Apes. The story as written is divided into three sections.
THE BATTLE THAT WASN’T
The treatment opens thirteen years after the conclusion of Conquest. Caesar is now Emperor, ruling Modern City (the setting of Conquest), which is decorated with banners bearing his face and statues of his visage. The apes occupy the city but now they are in control, with human slaves as servants and laborers. Caesar presides over a council that contains:
- three chimpanzees, “led by PAN who is young, intellectual and idealistic.”
- three gorillas, “led by ALDO, who is early-middle-aged, aggressive, militaristic, hates Humans and would like them exterminated.”
- two orangutans, “led by ZENO, who is the elderly apostle of science and reason.” His input is described as “always more practical than Pan’s and more logical than Aldo’s.”
MacDonald, the sympathetic ape overseer in Conquest, is indulged by Caesar (allowed to wear his own clothes instead of a servant’s uniform and allowed to accompany him to council meetings) but is reminded when he speaks up in favor of adding humans to the council that he, like the rest of the humans in the city, is a servant.
As Caesar and his entourage (including Lisa, the female chimp from Conquest, now pregnant with Caesar’s child) pass among his subjects on the anniversary of the “Night of Fires,” they are met by a human stranger in regular clothes. The human is arrested and insists on speaking to nobody but Caesar, claiming to be sent by a man named Nimrod (“a mighty hunter”) with a message for the chimp leader. He insists that if the apes do not free the humans they have enslaved, Nimrod and his people will drop a bomb on the city. The apes discover that the stranger is wearing a transmitting device, destroy it, and mobilize an evacuation to get the ape population into shelters under the city. They also round up humans with skills that they deem essential (a teacher, a doctor, a carpenter, etc.) to be saved. During this process, a man described as possessing the “same dynamic power as the man we called ‘The Stranger'” murders and takes the place of an animal psychiatrist. Nimrod dispatches two pilots on an old plane, and the bomb they deliver levels the city.
We check in with survivors, first a pair of irradiated mutants (like those seen in Beneath) laying claim to an abandoned shelter under the wreckage of the city, and then a group of human survivors heading from the ruined city toward the prospect of water and vegetation. They run into armed gorillas who capture them and bring them to the new Ape City, with the exception of one man who escapes and happens across Lex, the spurious animal psychiatrist. Lex is communicating with Nimrod and reporting that Caesar has been experience mysterious headaches. He determines that the fugitive man’s profession was “gunsmith” and recruits him for a special project.
In a council debate, the apes decide to give the captured humans an opportunity to live and serve the community, and to allow the human children to be educated along with the apes. Lex confers with the doctor and gets him to administer sodium pentothal to Caesar in an attempt to find a psychological cause for his headaches (he also takes the opportunity to swap labels on a different medication in the doctor’s bag). Under the influence, Caesar reveals that he is still deeply haunted by Armando’s suicide in Conquest and blames himself. Lisa gives birth to a son, and despite the doctor’s concerns for her recovery she joins Caesar in the city’s amphitheatre to present the child (named Cornelius Armando) to their citizens. As the apes cheer their emperor’s son, Lisa falls to the ground in pain. The doctor pulls a hypodermic needle from his bag and injects Lisa with it, but instead of providing relief it kills her. Pandemonium breaks out, Zeno ascends the dais, MacDonald is clubbed unconscious, and Caesar looks around for his son but Lex has taken him.
The ape council debates how to proceed. Pan defends the doctor’s claims that the bottles were switched and warns about the threat that Nimrod still poses; Aldo advocates just killing all of the humans to guard against any other conspirators. Lex has delivered Caesar and Lisa’s baby to the mutants under the old city, and when he reports on what has transpired to Nimrod (Lisa dead, Cornelius abducted, Caesar “brainsick,” and hidden “devices” left behind in Ape City waiting to be activated), the human leader mobilizes his forces to head south, toward the apes. Back in the council meeting, Caesar has succumb to paranoia about the remaining humans. To keep them from spreading conspiracy amongst themselves and, by way of skirting around his public pronouncement that “the time for killing is over,” he orders that all of the humans be surgically rendered mute.
While Caesar attends to Lisa’s funeral arrangements, Zeno confers with an orangutan anatomist (named Zaia, and described as “possibly an ancestress of Dr. Zaius in Apes 1 and 2”) about the most painless way to remove the power of speech from humanity. Caesar tries to force the human doctor to teach Zaia the surgery and, when the doctor refuses to condemn humanity because of Lex’s actions, Caesar grows increasingly outraged about the human “traitors” (even repudiating MacDonald as “Judas…above all”). MacDonald volunteers himself as the first subject for the surgery.
Nimrod’s caravan of old vehicles halts in range from the old city, and Lex checks in on the gunsmith who is assembling, from blueprints, a mysterious projectile whose purpose even he doesn’t know. The ape council accompanies Caesar to Lisa’s funeral (Aldo grumbling to Zeno about how elaborate it is) while the human doctor and Zaia prepare to conduct the surgery that will leave MacDonald mute. As Caesar bows to kiss Lisa’s coffin, Lex activates a hidden transmitter in the coffin and a female mutant speaks through it to Caesar, informing him that his child is safe but that if a single human is harmed under his orders, Cornelius will die. Caesar leaps from the coffin, shouting that Lisa spoke to him and that the surgery must not proceed. Aldo and Zeno declare him mad, and Aldo draws his gun on Caesar. Caesar makes it to the doctor’s hut in time and MacDonald emerges, voice still intact. Caesar is in agony from the headeaches and he screams about setting all the humans free, but after a shared, silent exchange with Zeno, Aldo fires on Caesar. MacDonald dives in front of the chimpanzee, shot dead instantly. Aldo fires again, killing Caesar.
SYNOPOSIS OF FINAL PHASE
As Aldo stands over Caesar, Nimrod begins firing on the compound that houses the humans the apes have captured, declaring them “collaborators” and “a fifth column that must be exterminated.” Aldo leads the apes against Nimrod’s forces, with humans in junky old vehicles against apes on foot and horseback. As apes pursue fleeing humans into the caves under the old city, the gunsmith emerges with a team of mutants and fires the mysterious projectile he’d been working on. It doesn’t explode, but instead ticks a countdown as a mutant’s voice explains that it contains a top-secret nerve gas that induces sterility in all who inhale it. Zeno and Aldo lead a retreat as the projectile counts down and explodes.
The mutants greet Nimrod (who identifies himself by his real name: Mendez, the ancestor of the mutant leader in Beneath) and, when asked, inform him that there actually was no gas in the projectile. Back in Ape City, Zeno and Aldo have assumed control of the city and declared the land exposed to the gas a “Forbidden Zone.” Zeno begins an anti-human speech that will eventually be incorporated into the apes’ sacred scrolls (Zeno himself will become The Lawgiver).
After a dissolve, the final scene takes place some undetermined time later. A small group of human children who survived the climactic battle are seen emerging from the cave in the Forbidden Zone. They release the baby chimp Cornelius, described as having grown since last we saw him, to rejoin his own kind. “He looks this way and that; sniffs the air; and then walks away, as alone as Chaplin, into the sunset and the land of his fathers.”
THE BATTLE THAT WAS
When the Corringtons were hired to write the script for Battle (a movie that, after the reaction to Conquest‘s violence, Arthur Jacobs wanted to be more directly a children’s picture), they asked a number of people what they had liked in the previous entries. They came to believe that one of the things people had responded to in the series was the essential innocence of the apes. So they set about creating a story that started from that perspective, with the apes living not in the city created by their former captors, or a decadent imperium, but in an Edenic tree village. Caesar was no longer the angry revolutionary, or the trouble and increasingly paranoid despot in Dehn’s treatment, but a warmer, more paternal (and even pacifistic) leader. The story would still involve a conflict between Caesar and Aldo for the soul of the ape community, and the uneasy relations between apes and the surviving humans. The primary human antagonist was changed from Nimrod to Kolp (Severn Darden), an underling of the villainous Governor Breck from Conquest. None of the heroes demand the surgical mutilation of all humankind. And Lisa, Caesar, and MacDonald would all survive (but not the same MacDonald; funnily, when actor Hari Rhodes from Conquest was unavailable to reprise his role in Battle, they just recast with Austin Stoker and added a line saying that he was playing MacDonald’s brother). Of course, this being an Apes movie, even the softened kid-friendly version of the story has jagged edges. While his parents survive, Cornelius is actually killed by Aldo in the finished film! And while the happier ending, with Caesar freeing the humans and declaring a commitment to peaceful coexistence, seems more straightforwardly optimistic than Dehn’s, the film still has a flourish of ambiguity at the end that suggests two different readings. And I think it’s probably that last thing that makes the final version of Battle most valuable. After a story that gives the apes their own fall from grace and still suggests the possibility of reconciliation between peoples who have wronged each other, the very ending (with a few ominous words from The Lawgiver, a fleeting shot of an ape child and human child fighting, and a statue of Caesar that appears to be weeping) asks whether human nature could allow any such peace to last. It doesn’t just let fans debate the mechanics of time travel and nerdy continuity minutia. It also makes each audience member personally consider their own belief in the human capacity for peace and answer the question, “Why do you think Caesar weeps?”
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