Science-fiction franchises rarely die. The eyes might close but the heart continues to beat, even if only a core collective of fans can hear it. The fact that Planet Of The Apes’ ticker is still pumping, despite the life-threatening surgery it underwent in 2001, is testament to the series’ resilience. Though a success in financial terms, Tim Burton’s film paled in comparison to its 1968 forefather, lacking its well-defined story, strong characters, thought-provoking subtext and, well, let’s be honest, plain old charm.
Of course, fans of the original Apes movies – those that were disappointed in 2001, anyway – were always going to forget, if not quite forgive, Burton’s effort. But Hollywood? Had the critical chirping over the 2001 film – especially its confusing ending – halted the wagon train? Or would the realisation hit that the movie had simply strayed too far from the source? The answers, it seems, are in Caesar, the seventh Planet Of The Apes film, mooted for release by Fox in 2011 – providing it makes it into production (at the moment, it’s awaiting a green light).
Developed under the title Planet Of The Apes: Genesis, then Genesis: Apes, the new movie is being crafted by writer/director Scott Frank, whose scripting credits include Get Shorty and, more to the point, Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report. The story – reportedly driven by an idea that’s not too far from current genetic research, lending it a hard sci-fi flavour – details the rise of a super-intelligent chimpanzee who eventually rallies his species against mankind.
If that sounds familiar, it’s not surprising. In its brief synopsis, it appears to be the same tale told by Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes, the fourth film in the original series and the source of the name Caesar (Roman emperors notwithstanding). However, in an interview with Chud.com last December, Scott Frank was adamant that his film will be no remake – and, more surprisingly, that there’ll be no talking apes nor actors in simian make-up. Instead, the titular character will be brought to life by photo-real (at least that’s the plan) CGI and will communicate with facial gestures and sign language.
If such revelations have you groaning into your Planet Of The Apes Ultimate Collector’s Edition (a 14-DVD set that comes complete with a hairy, life-sized bust of Roddy McDowall as the original Caesar), take heart in the fact that there are probably still some corners of the classic Apes universe that you haven’t explored, such as the 250+ comic books, the audio adventures, the video game (released in 2001 but completely Burton-free) and various film and TV novelisations.
The expanded ‘verse is deep and wide – so much so that its characters and events are able to fill a 303-page book titled Timeline Of The Planet Of The Apes, which was published recently by Hasslein Books. Controversially, its author, Rich Handley, weaves in events from Tim Burton’s movie and its spin-off publications, so for some the soil might be tainted (if it wasn’t already by the 1991 Alien Nation crossover and other bits of comic-book craziness). But as an exercise in glorious obsession, it’s a noble tome. As a guide to what’s out there, it’s thorough.
Providing that Scott Frank’s story gets the go-ahead to be turned into a film, one assumes that Handley will eventually add it to his timeline, even if it requires some cunningly lateral thinking. After all, the rule is: if it’s released by Fox, it’s official.
At the moment, many fans, including this one, are hopeful but cautious when it comes to a new Planet Of The Apes movie. We’ve had the reimagining, and it wasn’t as good as we’d imagined. Now we’re awaiting the reboot, and we’re hoping that it doesn’t crash. Though the original films are likely to remain at the centre of the Apes universe, it would certainly feel good to hail Caesar in 2011*. Fictionally speaking, of course.
* A little bit of mathematical intrigue: if you take 2011 away from 3979 (the year that, according to Timeline Of The Planet Of The Apes, the Alpha-Omega bomb detonates, devastating the Earth), you’re left with 1968 – the year the original film was released. Good omen or bad omen?