For the last month I’ve been on the heels of a story that has excited me: Fox has been developing a new Planet of the Apes film, a prequel. There were a lot of rumors. We heard from sources close to Fox that the film (which we were told was called Planet of the Apes: Genesis or Genesis: Apes) was a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. It would tell the story of Caesar, the chimpanzee who led the apes in rebellion, conquering humanity and creating a planet where apes ruled and humans served.
As we learned this weekend, things have changed in the previous months. Fox is still excited about this property, and now they’ve put the film into the hands of writer/director Scott Frank. The film is now called Caesar. But what about the rest of the info? Was any of it true? If so, does it still apply now that Frank is on the project? I went to the source and this morning spoke to Scott Frank himself.
Caesar is not a remake of Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. This is a fact that Frank can’t stress to you enough – his film will not feature talking monkeys, and it will not end with chimpanzees running wild in the streets, taking over the world. But it isn’t entirely divorced from the world of Planet of the Apes, either. In fact, Frank sees his movie as the opening chapter in a saga that could span the thousand years between today and a world where apes rule.
What’s most exciting about Caesar is that Frank is committed to telling a hard science fiction story. The science that creates a hyper-intelligent chimpanzee is based on current real world research – this film would just take that science one step further. He’s also committed to telling a story based on character, not antic ape action. His plan for Caesar is one where you come to really feel for this ape, even as the final act sees him taking actions that may be hard for us to agree with.
But getting Caesar to be a real character on the page is just one of the challenges still facing Frank. He is right now just in the beginning phases of rewriting the script, and even if he is able to nail the story, he still has to figure out if he can bring Caesar to life on screen. Since he doesn’t want to have people running around in monkey suits, Frank is doing lots of research into the state of effects today – can he create a photoreal chimpanzee (one who is facially modified by the genetic engineering that grants him his intelligence) who will be the main character for this film? Can he create a character who is completely expressive through his face, eyes, and gestures (including sign language) without speaking a word of dialogue?
Fox seems convinced Frank can make it work. Caesar excites the writer/director because it’s something so outside of his wheelhouse*, but he’s adamant that he wants to get it right, and he says that the studio feels the same way. This is a film that needs to be grounded in character and science, and then made to feel real. While we didn’t get into details, what Frank told me made Caesar sound like it would also continue the Apes tradition of tackling social issues, something sorely lacking in Tim Burton’s stillborn re-imagining.
Frank was audibly excited about the movie as he told me about it, but he was also very cautious to say that he wouldn’t know if the film would be going ahead until at least February. It does sound like Fox is eager to get this franchise restarted, so I hope that Frank feels comfortable with his script and the FX, since I’d rather see a guy who can write (and direct, judging by the criminally underseen The Lookout) on this film than a guy whose commercial background convinces the suits he can shoot action that will look cool in a trailer.
As a lifelong fan of the Apes series, Frank’s take on this material has me excited in a way that I wouldn’t have thought possible. The great thing about each of the original Apes sequels is that they did something new and unexpected, and there are many elements in Frank’s concept that fit right in that tradition. His story is one that will work as a standalone thriller, as a science fiction thinker and as the beginning of a larger, grander saga.
Hopefully Caesar will continue moving forward. If it does, expect us to be at the forefront of its evolution, bringing you all the latest news.
* Although it’s worth noting that Frank has been involved in thoughtful scifi before, namely Minority Report.