July writing wrap-up.

July come. July go.

Another month passes in a blur. Among the highlights? Getting to attend the first in-person Shore Leave convention in three years! It was great to see so many people I only (usually) see at this con, and after two summers of virtual panels and no time hanging in the hotel? I was more than ready to pick up where we’d left off.

There was a definite vibe of “figuring out how to do this again” throughout the weekend, but most folks seemed to snap back in without too much trouble. I had a handful of panels scattered across the con’s three days, and the regular “Meet the Pros” mass author signing event on Friday was also a lot of fun. I also managed to talk with a few people about possible new writing projects at some point own the road. We shall see!

Meanwhile, there are the projects currently on my plate. On that front, things continue apace on both the writing and consulting fronts. The latter brings with it an unpredictable series of ad hoc writing writing tasks, which are as fun as they are surreal. As I said in an email sent earlier this week in response to just such a tasking, “This job is weird.”

Weird, but so much fun.

Elsewhere, things are moving ahead on no fewer than three projects, two of which I’m undertaking with Kevin. Unfortunately, mum’s still the word so far as offering too many details, but rest assured things are moving forward. My goal for taking off a big chunk of summer pretty much dissolved, so now I’m hoping for said downtime in the fall. Not that I’m complaining, of course. Getting paid to do something you love is a privilege, after all.

With that in mind, let me hit the time-out button for a few minutes and update you about what went down in July:

Continue reading “July writing wrap-up.”

Scribe Awards 2022: THE WINNERS!

Earlier this afternoon out at San Diego Comi-Con, the International Association of Media Tie-in Writers (IAMTW) announced this year’s crop of Scribe Award winners. These awards celebrate excellence in the field of writing licensed works that tie into other media such as television, movies, gaming, or comic books. They include original works set in established universes, and adaptations of stories that have appeared in these other formats, and which include every genre from mainstream police procedurals to science fiction, fantasy, horror, romance just to name a few of the heavier hitters.

The list of nominees and winners includes several people I’m proud to call friends and colleagues, so without further ado:

(Winner in each category boldly listed!)

Best Adapted Novel (novel based on a screenplay or teleplay)
Alien 3: The Unproduced Screenplay, by Pat Cadigan
Freshwater, by Julian Michael Carver
Halloween Kills, by Tim Waggoner

Best Audio Drama
Doctor Who: The Lost Resort, by A.K. Benedict
Doctor Who: The Third Doctor AdventuresThe Annihilators, by Nicholas Briggs
Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor AdventuresMonsters in Metropolis, by John Dorney
Doctor Who: Peladon – The Truth of Peladon, by Tim Foley
Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Adventures – The Curse of Lady Macbeth, by Lizzie Hopley
Doctor Who: Girl Deconstructed, by Lisa McMullin

Best Graphic Novel
Missy: The Master Plan – A Doctor Who Graphic Novel, by Jody Houser
Star Wars: Darth Vader, Volume 2 – Into the Fire, by Greg Pak
Life Is Strange: Coming Home, by Emma Vieceli

Best Original Novel – General Fiction
Pandemic: Patient Zero, by Amanda Bridgeman
Caleb York: Shootout at Sugar Creek by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Murder, She Wrote: Debonair In Death, by Terrie Farley Moran

Best Original Novel – Speculative Fiction
Marvel Legends of Asgard: The Rebels of Vanaheim, by Richard Lee Byers
Legend of the Five Rings: To Chart the Clouds, by Evan Dicken
Marvel Untold: Witches Unleashed, by Carrie Harris
Star Trek: Coda, Book III – Oblivion’s Gate, by David Mack
Star Trek: Picard – Rogue Elements, by John Jackson Miller

Best Original Novel – Young Adult / Middle Grade
Battletech: Crimson Night, by Jennifer Brozek
Jessie Files: Friendship Feature, by Stacia Deutsch
The Flash: Crossover Crisis, Book Three – The Legends of Forever, by Barry Lyga
Marvel: Xavier’s Institute – First Team, by Robbie MacNiven
RWBY: Roman Holiday, by E.C. Myers
Svilland: The Bear King, by Steve Savile

Best Short Story
Black Panther: Tales of Wakanda, “Bon Temps,” by Harlan James
Marvel: Xavier’s Institute – School of X, “Kid Omega Faces the Music,” by Neil Kleid
Arkham Horror: The Devourer Below, “All My Friends Are Monsters,” by Davide Mana
Renegade Legion: Voices of Varuna, “Distress Signals,” by Jean Rabe
Renegade Legion: Voices of Varuna, “Stepping Stones,” by Marsheila Rockwell

Also, friend, fellow word pusher and occasional partner in literary mischief David Mack was named as this year’s winner of the IAMTW’s Faust Award, adding him to the roster of impressive writers elevated to “Grandmaster” status within our little corner of the writing realm. So, be sure to find him on Facebook or Twitter and tell him he done good.

Congratulations to all the winners!

Happy 35th Anniversary, RoboCop!

Dead or alive, you’re coming with me.”

robocop-poster

Take one police officer in the wrong place at the wrong time. Add a host of state-of-the art cybernetic and computerized implants, all provided by a soulless, greedy corporation looking to “modernize” an overworked,  undermanned police force while making a tidy profit for themselves as they design a “city of the future.” Give the resulting creation one gigantic mother-fucking hand cannon, and the keys to a police cruiser. What do you get?

Released on this date in 1987, RoboCop is filmmaker Paul Verheoven’s dark, violent, often satirical, occasionally funny and in far too many ways very prescient action-crime thriller doused with a liberal helping of science fiction.

The plot is pretty simple: Detroit police officer Alex Murphy (Peter Weller) is mortally wounded while attempting with his partner to apprehend a gang of nasty bad guys with absolutely no qualms about torturing and killing a cop just for something to do. Declared dead but also still the “property” of Omni Consumer Products, the private corporation that has taken over the Detroit Police Department, Murphy — what remains of him following the shootout with the bad guys — is used as the “organism” part of a “cybernetic organism” project dreamed up by opportunistic junior executive/first-class douche canoe Bob Morton (played by the late, great Miguel Ferrer). Morton’s dream project, “RoboCop,” is intended to give OCP a cheaper, more reliable alternative to the law enforcement droids championed by senior exec Dick Jones (Ronny Cox).

Murphy is to be the prototype. All memories of his past life  are (supposedly) erased, and everything but his brain, face, heart, and other vital organs is replaced by cybernetic technology, turning him into a walking, talking armored tank with the ability to tie directly to any computer database and receive instructions the way you might program your own home computer. He’s also got a pistol the size of a damned baseball bat, that shoots like a Gatling gun and is stored inside his cybernetic leg. In short order, the new cyborg is given to the Detroit Police Department and he takes to the streets, and it doesn’t take RoboCop to strike fear into the hearts of evildoers everywhere and become the hero of a city beleaguered by crime. Everybody’s happy: citizens, the police force, and OCP.

Everything’s awesome until he runs into one of the bad guys who “killed” him, and his memories start to come back.

Then, shit gets real.

Thirty-five years after its initial release, RoboCop is still one of the absolute best science fiction films to come out of the 1980s. Though things like technology are of course dated by today’s standards, it’s the story — including peeks at the future of news and “infotainment” programming, the relentless quest for corporate profits at the expense of everything else including the people who provide those profits,  the bitter view of the military industrial complex — that still holds up. In typical 1980s/1990s Verheoven style, the humor here is dark…I mean, dark, yo.

Peter Weller is perfect as Alex Murphy and his cybernetic alter ego, struggling to hang onto those few vestiges of humanity that haven’t (yet?) been stripped from him. Nancy Allen is criminally underused as Murphy’s partner, Anne Lewis, and Ronny Cox and Miguel Ferrer are ruthless as the OCP execs who want to cash in at any cost. But it’s Kurtwood Smith who steals every single damned scene he’s in, playing evil-as-fuck Clarence Boddicker with unrestrained relish. It’s Boddicker who leads the murder of Alex Murphy, including taking the kill shot, and once Murphy realizes who and what he is and how he got here, you just know these two are going to clash like Godzilla and King Kong. For my money, Smith’s portrayal cemented Boddicker as one of the all-time great screen villains.

boddicker-grenade

The idea of marrying mechanical implants to a living being was already the stuff of SF film and literature well before RoboCop, of course. One of the more recent and popular manifestations of this trope had come along 15 or so years earlier, and also featured an unwitting test subject chosen by chance or fate to be “augmented” by cybernetic technology: Steve Austin, The Six Million Dollar Man. Several themes hinted at or explored in RoboCop, particularly with respect to Murphy being a “tool of the state” and wondering if he can retain any of his humanity — if he is in fact more than the sum of his parts — are also found in early episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man as well as the novel on which that series is based, 1972’s Cyborg by Martin Caidin.

RoboCop was a critical and commercial success, spawning two feature film sequels as well as a TV series, a TV mini-series, and (incredibly enough) not one but two animated series…precisely none of which are anywhere as good as the first movie. It’s also been successful in the merchandising arena, including toys and videogames as well as a run of comic stories from two different publishers. As I write this, a new videogame, RoboCop: Rogue City is in development with a scheduled release of June 2023 and featuring the Peter Weller’s likeness and voice. Click that link to check out a trailer. Elsewhere, rumors continue to fly about RoboCop Returns, a supposed sequel to the original film which would ignore the events of previous sequels and television series. Whether Weller returns to the role is undetermined, at least for the moment.

2014 brought with it an inevitable remake, which isn’t quite as bad as some people would have you believe while still coming nowhere close to holding a candle to the original. I recommend watching it at least once so you can see what they were trying to do, and how they brought some interesting twists while still (at times, anyway) somehow managing to completely miss what makes the original the enduring classic it is.

But, then you should definitely go back and watch this one, because Hell. Yeah. As Clarence Boddicker might say, this flick is “state of the art bang-bang.”

Shore Leave 42 schedule!

Con, ho!

With the past two years spent conducting our business in the virtual realm, Shore Leave – the actual, in-person, in-the-panel-rooms, in-the-bar-after-hours experience – is back! After pandemic-induced exile for the 2020 and 2021 shows, I am so very much looking forward to reconnecting with so many people I only get to see at this convention.

(Here’s hoping the gods overseeing air travel allow Kevin and me to make a successful transit there and back.)

So, yeah! Shore Leave is happening this weekend at the Delta Hotels Baltimore Hunt Valley Inn, and thanks to the wonder that is scheduled blog posting, I’m writing this on Monday, July 11th so that it can be posted the morning of Friday, July 15th, while I’m either sleeping or wandering around somewhere in the Baltimore area.

With only a couple of exceptions, I’ve been attending this con for nearly twenty years. Along with our annual jaunts to Denver for StarFest, this is my favorite con to attend. In addition to being a fan-driven show run by a dedicated group of volunteers rather than some corporate entity, I’m fairly certain it’s also the largest gathering of Star Trek writers of every sort. And as I’ve already said, it’s one of the few times even when we’re not dealing with pandemics that I get to see many of my friends and colleagues who call the East Coast (mostly New York and points nearby) home.

As is usually the case, the convention is boasting a pretty solid roster of media guests, including (as I write this…subject to change) Brandon Routh (Superman Returns, Legends of Tomorrow), Adam Baldwin and Summer Glau from Firefly and Serenity, Gates McFadden (Star Trek: The Next Generation), Robert Duncan McNeill (Star Trek: Voyager), Aimee Garcia (Lucifer), Jessie Usher (The Boys), and Eddie McLintock (Warehouse 13, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.).

There are also more author and science guests than you can shake a lightsaber at. Check out the con’s main Guests Page for all the details.

Meanwhile, you can for sure find this particular author guest at the following locations and times during the weekend. Plan your stalking accordingly:

Friday, July 15th

Small Screen Dominance – 7pm-8pm – Salon A
Star Wars and Star Trek have both had incredible new lives on the small screen, with multiple series thriving on TV. What does long-form storytelling enable that’s limited by two-hour movies? I’ll be joining Robert Greenberger, David Mack, and Laura Ware.

Meet the Pros – 10pm-Midnight – Hunt/Valley Foyer
The con’s annual mass author autographing event! Bring your books and whatever else you might want signed by any of the convention’s author guests. You should be able to track down a particular author throughout the weekend, but this is the main event. A local bookseller will also be on site all weekend, with plenty of new release and backlist titles from all the attending authors.

Saturday, July 16th

Worldbuilding and the Star Trek Universe – 12pm-1pm – Derby
Encompassing all of what’s new in Star Trek, from the shows to Star Trek Online to tie-in properties like comics, novels, this IP is expanding, with new creators and production designers bringing fresh perspectives. I’ll be on the panel with Derek Tyler Attico, Christopher L. Bennett, Greg Cox, Kelli Fitzpatrick, and Amy Imhoff.

What’s Coming in Star Trek Fiction – 3pm-4pm – Salon E
Pretty much what it says! For this panel, I’m hanging with Christopher L. Bennett, Greg Cox, David Mack, and Scott Pearson.

Sunday, July 17th

Indy’s Back! – 11am-12pm – Derby
After changes of director and writers, Indiana Jones 5 is done shooting, in post-production, and due in theaters June 2023. What do we know about it, and are we excited about one last adventure—or dreading it? I’ll be cracking the whip with Rigel Ailur, Kevin Dilmore, T.J. Perkins, and Howard Weinstein.

In and around all of the scheduled activities going on all weekend, I’ll be checking in on other panels, checking out the vendors room, and hopefully spending some time chatting with people I don’t get to see nearly often enough. And after each day’s obligations are met? Be sure to find most if not all of us in the hotel bar. It’s not just tradition; it’s a moral imperative!

Maybe I’ll see you there!

shoreleave-logo

Happy 35th Anniversary, Full Metal Jacket!

If you ladies leave my island…if you survive recruit training…then you will be a weapon. You will be a Minister of Death, praying for war. But until that day, you are pukes. You are the lowest form of life on Earth. You are not even human-fucking-beings! You are nothing but unorganized grab-asstic pieces of amphibian shit!

Those were the days, eh?

FullMetalJacket

Holy dog shit, Private Joker! It’s been 35 years since the debut of Stanley Kubrick’s war epic, which received its wide US-based theatrical release on this date in 1987 following a premiere in Los Angeles and a Canadian and limited US release in late June. Based on The Short-Timers, a 1979 semi-autobiographical novel written by former Marine and Vietnam veteran Gustav Hasford, Full Metal Jacket chronicles the journey of young James Davis (later to be known as “Joker”) from Marine Corps recruit training in 1967 to his eventual posting to Vietnam. Before he can graduate boot camp, however, he has to get past hard-assed drill instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. Following training and stationed in Vietnam as a combat correspondent for the Stars & Stripes newspaper, Joker comes face to face with the horrors of war as he endures the Tet Offensive, including the tumultuous, costly battle for Hue City in January 1968.

(Hasford would later pen a sequel to The Short-Timers, 1990’s The Phantom Blooper, which continued to chronicle Joker’s experiences in Vietnam. It was the second book in a planned trilogy, but Hasford died before that ever came to fruition.)

ermey

Many people’s knowledge of Full Metal Jacket comes from the oft-repeated and parodied quotes from Gunnny Hartman, played to complete, bang-on perfection by R. Lee Ermey. Originally hired by Kubrick to be the film’s military technical advisor, Ermey, himself a Vietnam vet and former Marine drill instructor, convinced the director to hire him for the pivotal role of Hartman. His experience as a “Hat” allowed him to craft page after page of pitch-perfect dialogue, and his performance lends an authenticity to the boot camp scenes comprising the film’s first half which–for my money, anyway–have yet to be surpassed.

The film’s opening scene, with Hartman “introducing himself” to the platoon of terrified recruits, is an unrivaled classic, and Ermey walks away with every scene he’s in. Even Ermey himself has parodied this role in other projects, such as commercials and when he portrayed “Sergeant Major Bougus,” an instructor for the United States Marine Corps Space Aviator Cavalry in the short-lived science fiction TV series Space: Above and Beyond.

Hartman and Matthew Modine (as Joker) are joined by a stellar cast, including Vincent D’Onofrio as the troubled “Private Pyle,” Adam Baldwin, Ed O’Ross, John Terry, Dorian Harewood, Arliss Howard as “Cowboy” and Kevyn Major Howard as Joker’s Vietnam travel companion, “Rafterman.”

“He’s silly and he’s ignorant, but he’s got guts and guts is enough.”

Whereas the original novel unfolds over three distinct sections–one each for boot camp, the Tet Offensive and a later mission to Khe Sanh–Kubrick, working alongside writer Michael Herr (with input from Hasford, for which he received joint screenplay credit…and is apparently a story all its own), compresses and reworks events from the book’s latter two sections to create the film’s second half. In contrast, the “boot camp half” of the movie is expanded from what is the novel’s shortest section. There are changes to several character names, and Hartman’s role (“Gerheim” in the book) also is given more attention, likely owing to Ermey’s presence and performance.

The movie has always received mixed to positive reviews, with many praising the boot camp portion while taking issue with the Vietnam half. Personally, I’ve come to appreciate the tonal shift between the two halves while acknowledging the common thread they share: dehumanization of one’s self and one’s enemy in order to conduct the nasty business of war.

Full Metal Jacket is a powerful, visceral film, easily one of the best war movies ever made. It’s not “pro” or “anti” war, though elements of both can be found. At the end of it all, it’s just “about” war…the cold, brutal, shitty reality of war, and how it transforms — on any number of levels — those called upon to wage it.

“Is that you, John Wayne? Is this me?”

Tied-Up With Tie-Ins: seaQuest DSV!

So, yeah. It’s been a minute since the last one of these. Where does the time go?

For those among you who are new to following the questionable expenditure of electrons that is my blog, one of its “irregularly recurring features” is something I like to call, “Tied Up With Tie-ins.” It’s here that I take a fond look back at a favorite series of novels based on movies or television series.

Given my penchant for nostalgia and collecting old books, I figure this is a nice intersection for those two interests, which often means I’m revisiting something older, such as the many different tie-ins which were all over the place during my childhood and early adulthood. That said, I’m certainly not above babbling about something published much more recently if it trips my trigger. A few of the subjects previously tackled represent books or book series which inspired a film or television series, so that’s obviously on the table. One example I’m pondering for a future entry is the series of “Walt Longmire mysteries” penned by author Craig Johnson and the basis for the Longmire TV series. I guess we’ll see, eh?

Meanwhile, for this entry, we’re setting a course for the 1990s and heading back to the ocean, “for beneath the surface lies the future.” At least, that’s what they told us in 1993 about the far off year of 2018 and the undersea world of seaQuest DSV.

Continue reading “Tied-Up With Tie-Ins: seaQuest DSV!”

Tuesday Trekkin’: “Mesin Waktu, Mr. Spock.”

Me: “I’m not buying another Star Trek book or comic unless it’s something really, REALLY obscure. Like, you know…something published in Indonesian, and adapting for my reading pleasure an equally obscure piece of Star Trek merchandise, and ONLY THEN if I have no hope of understanding anything it says.”

Life: CHALLENGE ACCEPTED.

Yeah. It’s like that.

TrekVM-01
TrekVM-05

Old school Star Trek fans likely know that View-Master, the wonderful company which has been offering since 1939 all sorts of photographic and (later) stereoscopic imagery goodness for education and entertainment, has not forgotten the Final Frontier.

View-Master dipped its toes into the Star Trek pond no fewer than five times, with packets of stereoscopic “3D” images showcasing the original series episode “The Omega Glory” and the animated episode “Yesteryear” (packaged as “Mr. Spock’s Time Trek”) along with Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Their final entry highlighted the second-season Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “A Matter of Honor.”

Of these, the “Yesteryear” adaptation is the most interesting. Rather than rely on set or publicity photography as was the case with its live-action counterparts, “Mr. Spock’s Time Trek” benefits from Filmation’s having rendered special recreations of the selected images designed for use with the View-Master format.

Way back when, the resulting packets of three “card wheels,” each featuring 14 images (2-each, working together to achieve the intended 3D effect for 7 distinct images per wheel), was accompanied by a booklet summarizing the story being told. The text was partnered with illustrations, which in this case are different from those depicted in the images. View-Master actually issued this in two versions: the “regular” edition, and one with a soundtrack narrating the text from the booklet.

You’d think that would be enough glomming onto one bit of Trek lore, right?

Wrong.

About five years ago, friend Rich Handley alerted me to the existence of a book he’d never seen in all his travels as a researcher of all things obscure Star Trek. He came across it while searching for rare copies of Indonesian and other foreign language Trek comics, at which time he asked if I was interested in it.

Hell yeah. I love this quirky stuff. So, what did I end up with?

MesinWaktuSpock01

Published in 1979, “Mesin Waktu Mr. Spock” (loosely translating to “Mr. Spock’s Time Machine”) appears to be exactly what it looked like when I first saw it: an Indonesian adaptation not of the “Yesteryear” episode,” but indeed the View-Master presentation of that same episode.

It contains almost but not all of the images from the original reels, accompanied by text which – so far as I can tell – is far more detailed than the story summary provided with the original View-Master booklet. Hardcore Trekkies will grind their teeth and clench their jaws upon realizing that every single image is flipped/reversed/inverted/wrong. Personally, I think it’s hilarious:

And so it was that yet another bit of oddball Star Trek publishing weirdness found its way to my disturbingly large library.

Many thanks to Rich for turning me onto this little nugget of nostalgia. It makes me want to start digging to see what else is out there.

June writing wrap-up.

And just like that, 2022 is half over.

Summer shenanigans are in full swing here at stately Ward Manor. We’re halfway through the one kid’s summer swim team season, while the other kid is filling time with music and art lessons, and both offspring are of course spending plenty of time with their friends.

June was active on the writing and consulting front, in preparation for being more active in the months ahead. I’m still not at a point where much of my upcoming writing output can be discussed in the open, but I’m told announcements about a couple of these projects are inbound very soon. Long story short? So much for the leisurely summer I was hoping to enjoy. On the other hand, it’s nice to be loved and I’m grateful for the opportunities which have presented themselves.

:: cracks fingers ::

But before we get on with the next bout of writing, let’s see what went on in June:

Continue reading “June writing wrap-up.”

Happy 123rd Birthday, Indiana Jones!

Today marks the birth date of Dr. Henry Walton Jones, Jr., famed archaeologist and obtainer of rare antiquities, renowned professor, traveled adventurer, and all around nice guy.

If ever you need an historical artifact or object of the occult located and liberated from uptight French rivals, scheming Nazis or commie graverobbers, he’s your man.

If you’re starving in some backwater village and worried about some ancient voodoo rocks rather than finding a decent sandwich shop, this is the dude you call.

If you’ve got alien bodies that need studying before they’re whisked away to secret military warehouses, he’s good at that, too.

If you want someone to show you the folly of bringing a sword to a gunfight, he’s got it covered.

Indiana Jones: July 1, 1899 – ???

Smart, tough, resourceful, and ruggedly handsome. There are so few of us.

Were he still alive today, he’d be 123 years old.

On the other hand, he did drink from the Holy FREAKIN’ Grail. Maybe he really is still out there, crackin’ his whip and chasin’ after fortune and glory. Hmmmmmmm?

IndianaJones-1992
Indiana Jones, circa 1992

You just never know about these things. So, just in case…Happy 1234d Birthday, Dr. Jones!

Happy 50th Anniversary, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes!

“Where there is fire, there is smoke. And in that smoke, from this day forward, my people will crouch, and conspire, and plot, and plan for the inevitable day of Man’s downfall.

The day when he finally and self-destructively turns his weapons against his own kind.

The day of the writing in the sky, when your cities lie buried under radioactive rubble! When the sea is a dead sea, and the land is a wasteland out of which I will lead my people from their captivity!

And we shall build our own cities, in which there will be no place for humans except to serve our ends! And we shall found our own armies, our own religion, our own dynasty! And that day is upon you NOW!”

Sorry, humans. I guess that’s your ass.

In the “far off future” of 1991, people now live in what looks to be an oppresssive, militaristic society. Law enforcement (dressed in the finest stormtrooper fashions) is visible on every street corner, and endless directives and warnings are issued from faceless announcers as the civilian populace goes about its daily affairs.

What’s missing? Cats and dogs, all of which have died off as the result of a mysterious disease brought back from a space probe. This little bit of misfortune, of course, was foretold by chimpanzees Cornelius and Zira in the previous film, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, though it’s happened far more quickly than they indicated. So too has mankind’s desire to replace their little lost subservient quadrupeds, and they’ve turned to domesticating primates. By 1991, simians are a subclass; a slave race. However, is the collective intelligence of the apes on the rise?

Could be.

So, what happens? Add one intelligent, speaking chimpanzee to the mix–himself the offspring of Cornelius and Zira–to stir up some shit. Before you know it, the apes are pissed and they’re not gonna take it anymore, and so that’s humanity’s ass. Cue revolt.

Whoops.

Released on this date in 1972 after a Los Angeles premiere on June 14th and another in New York on June 29th, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes brings almost full circle the story begun in 1968’s Planet of the Apes. This third sequel to that classic film shows–at least to some degree–what’s promised in its title and tagline. As for Conquest being “the most awesome spectacle in the annals of science fiction,” I think we all can agree this was a bit of overreach from the marketing folks (and, we all know that honor goes to Barbarella, right?).

By the time production kicked into gear on this, the fourth of the Apes films, the cycle of diminishing returns was firmly in place. With each successive movie earning less at the box office, budgets for the next one were reduced accordingly. Therefore, director J. Lee Thompson faced the challenge of convincingly depicting what turns out to be the genesis of the ape uprising hinted at in the previous film, the longterm effects of which are–of course–apparent in the first movie. And, he had to do it on a budget which probably wouldn’t cover the catering bill on a Michael Bay shoot. This was prequel-izing before prequel-izing was rampant, yo!

The first half of the film isn’t the most exciting cinema you’ll ever see, but there’s a deliberate “tightening of the screws” going on as we see Caesar coming to terms with the role of apes in modern society, and deciding he ain’t playing that game. Once he learns of the death of his friend, Armando (Montalban) at the hands of government officials, watching him slowly yet firmly begin to push the apes around him toward dissent is, oddly enough, satisfying.

A larger budget might’ve allowed for more expansive scenes of turmoil once the apes lose their shit and start tearing up the joint. Still, considering what he was working with, director Thompson does a decent enough job injecting energy and tension into the scenes of ape rebellion which carry the film’s final act. Tight camera angles and deft editing manage–for the most part–to mask the production’s sparse budget, while strong performances from Ricardo Montalban, Don Murray, Severn Darden, Hari Rhodes, and Natalie Trundy (as the chimpanzee Lisa, her third different role in three consecutive Apes outings) help to elevate the material a notch or two above the previous two sequels.

But, again, it’s Roddy McDowall who carries the film on his stooping shoulders. Starting out as a supporting role in the original Planet of the Apes before moving to top billing in Escape (another actor, David Watson, portrayed Cornelius in the first sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes), he dons the ape makeup here for a third time, but for the first time as “Caesar,” the son of Cornelius. As usual, McDowall brings a warmth and–dare we say it–“humanity” to the role, which is sort of important now, as by this point in the series we’re all firmly rooting for the apes to kick humanity right in its collective taint. He would reprise the role of Caesar in the fifth and final of the original films, Battle for the Planet of the Apes, before going on to play yet another chimpanzee, Galen, in the 1974 live-action Planet of the Apes television series.

Moving past the original Planet of the Apes, which (so far as I’m concerned) stands apart from everything which came after it, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes is actually my favorite of the Apes sequels. Like a lot of folks, I’ve always wanted to see what comes next. Obviously, we know what ultimately happens, but that still leaves plenty of room for a whole assload of stories set between the events of this film and the next one. Some of that territory has been explored, mostly in comics published by three different companies in sporadic fashion over the past 40-odd years.

And, lest we forget, it’s Conquest that provided much inspiration for the “reboot” Apes films: 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the ApesDawn of the Planet of the Apes from 2014, and 2017’s War for the Planet of the Apes. Indeed, you can also see more than a bit of Battle DNA in the latter two films.

Not a bad bit of legacy-leaving, if you ask me.

Happy 50th, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.