After the relatively successful third installment of the Ape pentalogy, "Escape from the Planet of the Apes", 20th Century Fox decided to create a fourth part which continues the story of its predecessor showing the entitled conquest of the planet of the apes. Director J. Lee Thompson, who also helmed the finale "Battle for the Planet of the Apes", decided early on to make this a dark and violent movie because it basically was about the war between men and apes becoming a global nuclear war leading to the extinction of men. At least this was the concept behind the production. Fox had Thompson shot his vision but then massive budget cuts forced him to abandon this early concept. Fox leveled the budget to 1.8 million US dollars (9.1 million dollars regarding inflation) and the global war became a local rebellion introducing the war (which would basically happen off screen).
During post-production Fox wasn't satisfied with Thompson's final cut. First of all a test audience disliked the dark ending. Secondly Fox wanted the movie to be rated PG to reach a maximum audience. Back then there hasn't been a PG-13 rating yet (it wasn't introduced until the controversy regarding "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "Gremlins") and so the next rating would have been R. Thompson was forced to tone the movie down to a PG rating and had to generate a more audience-friendly ending for which lead actor Roddy McDowell extended his final speech and dubbed new lines over new inserted material (contrary to popular belief no new scenes had been reshot). The result made Fox happy: "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" received a PG rating. But even with the many cuts and the longer, softer ending many parents left the theaters in disgust. Even the PG version is doubtlessly one of the most borderline PG movies next to "Poltergeist".
II. The Unrated-Cut
This original cut, which has now seen the light of day on BluRay as Unrated-Cut, mainly differs from the theatrical, VHS and DVD version during the rebellion of the apes. Basically Thompson's intended version is darker, doesn't end with a pseudo happy ending and delivers some explicit violence as well.
Interestingly some rather violent scenes from the Unrated-Cut made it into the official theatrical trailer::
II.a) The ominous opening sequence
For years there's a rumor going through online message boards which gave hope about an ultimate unrated cut to fans of the series worldwide. Supposedly Thompson filmed an opening sequence in which an ape flees from slavery and is brutally struck down by security guards. The official novelization as well as the shooting script include that scene and the fact that "Conquest of the Planet of the Apes" remains the only film of the pentalogy without a pre-title sequence kept this rumor alive for years. The unrated BluRay version which equals Thompson's Director`s Cut does not inculde this scene. The escape is briefly mentioned but to this day there are no hints whether this scene has ever been shot.
An audio commentary of Thompson could have shed some light on this issue but unfortunately he already died on August 30th of 2002.
III. Picture comparison
Compared to the German DVD the BluRay shows a larger frame. To illustrate this I created a picture montage. In the middle you see the picture of the German DVD embedded into the frame of the BluRay.
IV. Censorship report
This is a comparison of the German DVD (FSK 12), here referred to as theatrical, VHS or DVD version, and the US BluRay first edition (Unrated), here referred to as Unrated Version.
Both versions are distributed by Fox on BluRay and DVD.
Altogether the DVD version misses 117,5 seconds (because of the shorter ending in the Unrated-Cut a direct comparison of running times results in a smaller difference).
For this report "only" the US BluRay version was at hand - this version made it to retail stores as a single BluRay but also comes in a „40 Years Evolution Collection“. The single DVD has been released on December 2nd of 2008.
A gorilla grabs the guard's flamethrower and points it at him. Caesar and the yelling apes look how he goes down, burning.
An ape is shot by a police officer – slightly longer.
Alternate shot: as Caesar sees the bodies of two shot apes the camera pans over the bodies in the Unrated Cut. The shot of the first body has been replaced in the old version with a (less graphic?) shot. Unrted Cut on the left, old version on the right.
no time difference
A shot of the weapons and of the fire is missing.
A police officer is thrown through a window by a gorilla.
A shot of apes throwing furniture into the fire and stacking the bodies of policemen is missing.
Another shot of the bodies is missing.
While the apes lead by Caesar try to infiltrate the headquarters the locked up apes riot. Gouvernor Breck grabs a guard's weapon and shoots a gorilla.
The other apes in the headquarters are being shot.
As the headquarters are being breached some shootouts and hits are missing.
A brief shot of a burning body is missing.
The apes stack the bodies of dead policemen in front of Gouvernor Breck.
With knifes and rifle butts the apes mutilate the human bodies.
More shots of blood-smeared policemen and Breck on the floor are missing.
The apes are kicking a body.
Another shot of the bodies has been removed.
A body is thrown to the ground.
A missing shot of Lisa facing Caesar.
A shot of Caesar is missing.
Two shots of the apes threatening Breck with their rifle butts are missing.
Alternate shot: as the apes around Breck lift their rifle butts he turns towards them. The end of the shot has been used in the theatrical version, but playing in reverse (Breck turns to Caesar).
no time difference
Contrary to the theatrical cut Breck is beat to death by the apes.
Contrary to many rumors the unrated ending is not longer. The ending has been extended for the theatrical version. The original ending was a lot darker und violent. Gouvernor Breck was not pardoned but instead beat to death by apes and Caesar didn't put the victory over mankind in perspective by adding more words. Due to the PG rating the ending had to be toned down. Violent scenes had been removed and Caesar's speech extended. This part was dubbed in post-production - not reshot. Deleted scenes were used in reverse (e.g. the apes not lifting their rifle butts but lowering them) and close-ups of Caesar had been avoided (so nobody would notice it's not synchronous to the movement of his lips). This is the part added to the theatrical cut:
"But now...now we will put away out hatred. Now we will put down our weapons. We have passed through the night of the fires. And who were our masters are now our servants. And we, who are not human, can afford to be humane. Destiny is the will of God. And, if it is man's destiny to be
dominated, it is god's will that he be dominated with compassion and understanding. So, cast out your vengeance. Tonight, we have seen the birth of the planet of the apes!"
This ending puts the revolution of the apes in perspective in some way. They didn't win for good but also don't want to destroy mankind anymore, just rule over them – a little hope remains. The unrated ending concludes in a wide shot of the destroyed city and the cheering apes after Breck has been killed (this has also been the final shot in the theatrical cut but due to the extended speech it appeared in a different context)..
As a little bonus: since the new ending has been viewed as the official one for decades the (original) unrated ending stands in conflict with the fifth part of the series in which the humans live under rule of the apes but unified in peace and in relative freedom.
Additionaly to the new violence the music score of the unrated version differs heavily from the one used in the theatrical cut. This is especially noticable during the riot of the apes where the unrated version makes only little use of the score and when it does one mostly hears deep drastic bass melodies. However the theatrical cut makes heavy use of an eccentrically varied version of the main theme. This could have been a sanction for the PG rating to light the tone of the movie.