Tim Burton killed Planet of the Apes. His film, while technically profitable, left moviegoers with such a bad taste in their mouths that Fox never bothered revisiting it in a sequel. The franchise, which had seemed poised for rebirth, lay dead for years.
But right now, in the halls of Fox, there is another new version of Planet of the Apes that has been kicking around for the last year. It’s not a sequel to the Burton film, and it’s not another remake of the original. To the general audience it’s a prequel to Planet of the Apes, but for the initiated it’s something totally different.
It’s a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.
Yup. It’s the story of Caesar, the ape who said no, the first ape with speech who started the events that led to a world where monkeys were on top and humans were dumb beasts.
Things are different in this script, written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, which is called Genesis: Apes. Fans will know that Caesar in Conquest is the result of a massive temporal paradox – his parents escaped to 1973 from a far future Earth. Further, Conquest takes place in a dystopian ‘future’ – 1991 – while Genesis: Apes is set in the modern day.
In this version Caesar is the result of a genetic scientist fooling around with the nature of things. When the baby monkey exhibits intelligence and the ability to talk, he takes the cuddly thing home to his wife, who is unable to bear children. Things go surprisingly well for a number of years until Caesar grows up and sees mommy getting attacked. The dutiful son steps in and accidentally kills the attacker.
Here’s where it takes off. In a scene paralleling Charlton Heston in the cage in the original Planet of the Apes, Caesar ends up in custody at an Ape Conservatory where he and the other apes are abused mercilessly. Caesar finds himself a primate without a world – he’s as smart as humans but will never be one of them (and is in fact tortured by them) and he’s initially rejected by his monkey brethren.
You’re on Caesar’s side, understanding where this poor outcast is coming from. But then the script gets really ballsy and, just like in Conquest, Caesar begins a campaign to unite the apes and overthrow human society. And his plan isn’t a Martin Luther King Jr series of marches, speeches and sit ins – Caesar and his apes take to the streets violently.
Again, it’s like Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, which brilliantly modeled its ape riot scenes on the Watts Riots that had happened just a few years before. But Conquest was set in a future where America was ruled by a fascist society. Genesis: Apes is set today, in this world. The regime that Caesar overthew in Conquest was made up of bad guys. The Caesar of Genesis: Apes is coming after you.
Maybe this is why the script has been languishing all this time. You just can’t have your hero working to tear down our modern society. It’s too radical! Plus, Fox remains notoriously unfriendly to good genre ideas.
Still, imagine if the film had come out this year. It’s the 40th anniversary of Planet of the Apes and The Dark Knight proved that mainstream audiences are ready for something edgy and challenging. The country is polarized politically in a way that would almost guarantee this film major media coverage and controversy, which would sell tickets. You could probably have liberals and conservatives, whites and minorities completely outraged by this movie.
And it’s the perfect way to get the franchise back up and running. Everybody knows that the Planet of the Apes used to be Earth. Everybody knows that the mute humans are our distant descendants. Everybody knows the Statue of Liberty is buried in the sand. So just skip all that – get to something new. That was one of the major problems with the Burton version, that it tried to recapture the shock of the original, the most spoiled movie of all time. But Genesis: Apes lets us get back into this world of apes and do what the four sequels to the original did – craft great science fiction parables that had gut puncher endings. Only Planet of the Apes had a ‘twist’ ending; all of the others just had ‘Holy shit!’ finales.
It’s likely that Genesis: Apes will sit on a shelf forever and ever, but here’s hoping that somebody at Fox is paying attention and realizes that even Mark Wahlberg can’t keep this franchise down forever.