Conquest of the Planet of the Apes - Unrated Version (1972)
I have always been a fan of the Planet of the Apes films since I saw them on TV as a child. At the time I enjoyed them on a very superficial level, where upon later viewing I became aware of their political and sociological subtext. I recently caught up with the alternative version of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes that is available on Blu-ray. Director J. Lee Thompson's original cut of the film was considered too bleak and was re-edited into the theatrical version that most viewers are familiar with. The differences were mainly substitutions hence both versions have the same running time.
The 2008 Blu-ray release includes both the theatrical version and an Unrated version with an alternate opening credits sequence as well as an alternate ending sequence. These were both re-edited and re-shot due to a poor test audience reaction. The studio also wished to secure a lower theatrical rating and thus maximize the potential box office returns. The subsequent changes make substantial impact upon the tone of the film and certainly take the narrative in a different direction.
In the opening, a police patrol tracks and kills a gorilla, which is shown to have numerous cuts and welts through maltreatment. Governor Breck later refers to a gorilla who turned on his master and was killed. In the ending, Caesar allows the apes to beat Breck and the other human’s prisoners to death. Breck does not cower, but faces his executioners. The Chimpanzee Lisa does not say "No" and Caesar makes no speech counselling compassion. There are also additional shots of apes and humans bleeding from gunshots, and apes stacking bodies of dead riot police.
Such violent material and a downbeat ending where not uncommon to seventies cinema. In fact you only have to look back three years prior to Beneath the Planet of the Apes for a prime example. However, Twentieth Century Fox were aware of the diminishing box office returns of the franchise and did not want to further harm profits with excessive political content that could further alienate an audience. In some respects this entry in the series is perhaps the most cerebral. Certainly this alternate version makes quite a powerful statement, has greater credibility and is Roddy Mc Dowall's best performance in the series.
Yet this cut of the film cannot stand as the definitive version as it effectively contradicts the premise for the next instalment. Battle for the Planet of the Apes begins with both apes and the human survivors attempting to live in peace. Something that could have hardly take place if there had been a massacre as depicted in the unrated version of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. Therefore, this alternative version remains an interesting companion piece, rather than a replacement for the established theatrical