As often happens when series drag on, the budget for Conquest was a little thin. Most of the costuming and props consisted of leftovers from old Irwin Allen TV shows (seriously), and the far-off future of 1991 New York City looked conspicuously like downtown Los Angeles circa 1972. The story was equally sparse, limited to providing a visual record of events already detailed in other entries of the series. Kind of like Revenge Of The Sith, except with primates. (Insert your own joke here.)
Fortunately, the budget did nothing to limit the acting chops of Roddy McDowell and Ricardo Montalbán whose performances raise the level of the whole picture. McDowell’s confusion and righteous anger over the mistreatment of his species is palpable even through the latex covering his features, and Montalbán’s kindly circus owner Armando, who does his utmost to present the good side of human nature to his simian ward, is one of my favorite performances from the actor. As far as Apes movies go, you can do a lot worse.
Of special interest is the recently restored director’s ending. In both versions, after the ape revolt, the sympathetic MacDonald appeals to the memory of Armando and begs Caesar for clemency for the humans. What the director originally shot was Caesar ignoring this plea, proclaiming a new era of ape rule, and allowing the gorillas to beat the humans to death. The End. Test audiences naturally balked at this outcome and the studio quickly re-edited the ending to one in which Caesar grants the humans mercy and speaks to the possibility that the two species might be able to alter the future and live in peaceful co-existence.
The test audience’s reaction to the darker ending came to mind this weekend after mass when I realized we didn’t use the version of the gospel reading in which the congregation speaks the words of the crowd at Jesus’ trial. You know, the ones where we have to do all the accusing and demanding for a crucifixion. It’s relatively easy to run across folks who express distaste at (or simply refuse to participate in) this custom as they insist that they would never, ever had said such things. But while I’d like to believe the same thing, the truth is, we’ve all already done much worse.
As the Catechism explains, “In her Magisterial teaching of the faith and in the witness of her saints, the Church has never forgotten that "sinners were the authors and the ministers of all the sufferings that the divine Redeemer endured." Taking into account the fact that our sins affect Christ himself, the Church does not hesitate to impute to Christians the gravest responsibility for the torments inflicted upon Jesus”. Maybe we wouldn’t have actively joined in the shouting to crucify Him, but our every sin put Jesus on the cross anyway. No tests audiences get to make that ending go away.