Where the messages, subtext, and parables of the previous four Planet of the Apes films were clear, Battle doesn’t seem to have any real idea what it wants to point out about humanity. There is some nuclear subtext, warnings about the horrors of war, and murder.
Those are all rather terrible things, and Battle stuffs it into a lethargic, dull script lacking in tension or excitement. That’s odd considering this is the most action-oriented movie of the series. There are some time frame problems with the scripting, as there are with every sequel starting with Escape. At this point, it is just easier to move on.
Caesar has taken over the ape population, now just a small village apparently, and humans are slowly becoming slaves after a nuclear war. Caesar does not look any older, and MacDonald is now played by Austin Stoker, although now the brother of the first MacDonald in Conquest (?). Severn Darden returns as Kolp, the evil leader of mutant humans forced underground after the war, and well, he does not seem any older either.
All of this makes for a confusing set up, made even more so when the movie opens on the Lawgiver (John Huston) sometime in the mid-2000s. With the writing sloppier and budget slashed yet again, returning director J. Lee Thompson had little work with. The movie is split into three acts, and none of them feel all that connected. They seem to exist to fill time, not entertain.
The first has Caesar trying to find his past by sneaking into the underground lair of the mutants. Caesar, MacDonald, and Virgil (an energetic Paul Williams) are attacked in an unnecessarily long action sequence, one that tries to build upon the intensity of Conquest. It fails pretty miserably.
The second act concerns an aggressive ape general named Aldo (Claude Akins) who kills Caesar’s son. This leads into the film’s supposed highlight, that of the small band of humans marching onto the ape city in a bus and tattered military vehicles. Try as he might, Thompson is unable to overcome studio budget constraints, so despite some great make-up work (the masks on background apes are far less apparent), everything feels small. The same hut explodes about five times.
Things eventually come full circle as Caesar gets his revenge, and ape society lives on to follow the path that leads to the original film, or so it seems. Virgil delivers a speech about how he believes time works, and their current path may not be the same as the one followed before. Since the series ended here (thankfully given the dismal dip in quality), where the apes went from here is… well, this could follow into the TV show, or maybe even the animated series, but that just gets too complicated.
Unfortunately for Battle in hi-def, it suffers from the same black level problems as Conquest. Those scenes in the underground city fail to generate depth, and in many cases, are weak enough to reveal some artifacting problems.
Above ground, the opening credits roll seems wiped clean, nearly devoid of grain and processed. That look is quickly eliminated, revealing a slightly detailed affair when in solid lighting. The council meeting about 48-minutes in looks great, with adequately defined foliage, rocks, and apes in all long shots. Colors, while somewhat subdued, provide some rich greens and bright oranges as the war erupts into flame.
There is some inconsistency in the softness/sharpness battle. Ignoring the murkiness of the underground scenes, the source is not always stable. While the print is in great shape (comparatively to the other movies in the series, Battle has no real source flaws to note), focus seems to come and go. MacDonald’s face near the end of the film (1:31:34) is reference quality in terms of detail and sharpness. Other scenes are soft enough to provide no texture to speak of.
With all of the smoke and debris tossed around during the action portion of the finale, the encode does a fine job of holding it all together. Banding and noise are never a problem. Despite the small scale, it preserves the number of apes and humans well, even at a distance. In close, the detail is rarely consistent enough though.
With all of the gunfire and explosions, this DTS-HD effort has plenty to handle, but the source betrays any modern sounding audio experience. Explosions are muffled and flat. Each shot fired from a cannon is lackluster. Guns, while slightly cleaner than in Conquest, are still limited in their fidelity. A bit of an echo creeps into the surrounds, although lacking in true directionality.
Leonard Rosenman’s score is fuller and richer than previous films. While it does sit within a mid-range (and is mostly confined to the center), it has minimal distortion. It never sounds strained, and it is free of defects. It carries a crispness that could have benefited the other films, however minor the increase may be.
Dialogue carries a familiar hollow quality, and remains distinguishable if unimpressive. It is prioritized enough that emotional, quieter moments remain as audible as those involving heavy action.
Another fine making of is called End of an Epic. It is a shame more studios don’t produce the same quality featurettes on the sequels as well as the original. The rest of the features remain the same as the other Blu-ray releases of these films. An uncompressed, isolated score, four still galleries, D-Box support, and trailer are par for the course. Also note that Fox includes two additional scenes that bump the running time up 10-minutes in the extended cut. The theatrical version is included too.