Friday, January 29, 2010

See Monkeys

Remember that feeling you had back in '99 when the credits rolled on Star Wars: Episode I? The feeling of trying to convince yourself that this was, in fact, a great movie, and not, in fact, a fiasco of epic proportions? Well, that didn't happen with me. I knew it was a turd the minute it ended, despite all my friends' gritted-smile protestations to the contrary.

Of course, it was an entirely different story two summers later when I walked out of the AMC after first seeing director Tim Burton's remake of Planet of the Apes. Confusion, frustration, and outright anger were duking it out for real estate inside my head, but there I was gamely smiling through grinding, gritted teeth, exclaiming to all who would listen, "It was great! No, really, it was great!"

It wasn't great.

The movie opened to what was, at the time, one of the biggest opening weekends of all time, so I can only assume there were a lot of other disgruntled fans out there just like me. Fans of the 1968 original and its four sequels who'd waited for Hollywood to finally, finally revisit the Planet of the Apes well after a twenty-five year dry spell, and who were rewarded with a donkey kick for their troubles.

It took another week, and one of the biggest second week drops of all time, for cold, hard reality to smack me in the back of the head like a handful of flung poop. Not only was the Burton Apes no good, its stench was so foul that it killed the reborn franchise in the cradle (probably a good thing, in this case), and effectively poisoned the well for the Apes brand.

Or so I thought, anyway.

I guess in hindsight it doesn't make much sense to leave Apes festering on the shelf when down-and-out properties like Batman, Hulk, and Star Trek can be dusted off without much bench-time and revived successfully. After all, back in the early-to-mid '70s -- a world before Trek became big, and before Star Wars existed -- Planet of the Apes was the Tiffany's of successful sci-fi properties, and the massive opening of the '01 remake proved there was still an audience out there.

Over the past year or so, there had been whispers of another Apes in the offing at Twentieth Century Fox, and it appears those rumors may have some fact behind them based on this report from the Vulture. Mercifully ignoring the Burton film, this new take would itself be a new take on Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, the fourth part of the original five-movie cycle.

Notable for its stark, minimalist aesthetic (a necessity really, given the ten bucks they had for a budget) and its dark subject matter, the original Conquest (set in 1991 -- the world of tomorrow!) depicts the downfall of human civilization and, through a sci-fi friendly time paradox, sets the stage for Chuck Heston to lay the smackdown on those "damned, dirty apes" two-thousand years hence (and four movies ago).

I'm assuming the new take (with the working title Caesar, for the Chimp Guevara played by Roddy McDowall the first time), would dispense with the time travel headaches and focus solely on the mechanics of the ape revolt, allowing, perhaps, for further sequels down the road.

There's potential here for something interesting, but I do find it worrisome that scribe/director Scott Frank, who shepherded the project from its inception, has been shown the door due to the studio preferring something a bit lighter than Frank's dark take. Human subjugation is such feel-good stuff, after all. Then again, this is Twentieth Century Fox, the same studio that rushed the Burton flick into production just to beat a threatened writer's strike, resulting in the mess they got.

Still, the mere fact that there's movement at all on what I assumed to be a dead property is a sign of hope. I hope. Will Apes speak to audiences anew? Given these recent developments, I'd have to say it's a matter of "when," not "if," but the real question is whether whatever project ends up hitting the screen will be worthy of its name and our time, or whether it'll be as instantly-forgettable as the franchise's last time at bat.

1 comment:

Ian Sokoliwski said...

You know, I've never been a fan of any incarnation of POTS. I do own the Roddy McDowell documentary thingie, and I find the story behind it to be quite fascinating...but I just can't get into it.

The first movie certainly has a lot of good ideas, although, like Trek, it doesn't seem quite so revolutionary in terms of storytelling as we are always told it is. Maybe it's just because times have changed, and you can tell stories about racism and such more overtly now, I dunno, but the analogies in the movie just seem to...I dunno, ham-fisted or something.

And the basic premise of the first sequel is so wall-bangingly inane that I couldn't get into the rest of the film. Which just so totally killed the rest of the franchise for me.