Monday, December 01, 2008

The Planet of the Apes Movie that Never Was and the Movie that Will Be

Since the first Planet of the Apes movie was released in 1968, there have been four sequels and a short-lived television series. Tim Burton made a reimagined version of the original in 2001. In all of those versions, the intelligent apes that rule the planet turn out to be descendants of present-day Earthly apes.

According to Devin Faraci at, there might have been a very different sequel, if Oliver Stone had had his way:
Talking to Entertainment Weekly in 1993, [Stone] said ''My concept is there's a code inscribed in the Bible that predicts all historical events. The apes were there at the beginning and figured it out. I don't want to (say) too much more, except the stars will be hairy.''

The idea was that a disease was wiping out the human race today. Arnold Schwarzenegger would play Will Robinson (I don't think this was meant as a Lost in Space tie-in, but who knows with this batty shit) as a genetic scientist who figures out the cause of the disease is in the distant past and, along with a pregnant colleague, travels back to the Stone Age to discover a world dominated by apes. To stop the plague they save a girl named Aiv. The time-traveling woman has a son named Adam.
That sounds pretty bad - from the Bible Code that's apparently hundreds of thousands of years old and created by apes, to the time traveler who becomes "Adam". It might have been amusing to see Schwarzenegger as a geneticist, but probably not worth sitting through a 3-hour-long Oliver Stone ape epic. We should all be grateful that the movie eventually fell into Tim Burton's creative hands.

It turns out there is Planet of the Apes prequel in the works, and writer/director Scott Frank plans to make it a hard science fiction movie. It will be set in the near future, and tell the story of Caesar, an "uplifted" chimpanzee with genetically enhanced intelligence who will become the ancestor of the apes who will eventually rule the world.
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.

[. . .] 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?
It sounds like an interesting idea. Lack of dialogue shouldn't be a problem, at least in principal - just look at how successful the robots in WALL-E conveyed emotion, despite their lack of facial features. However, I think a sort of chimp-human hybrid could be tricky to pull off, because it's almost-but-not-quite-human features might land the character deep in the uncanny valley. If Frank is successful, it might open the door to movies set in Brin's Uplift Universe, which I think would be awesome.

As for the science, we really are in the very early stages of understanding how genetics influence intelligence. Since both human and chimpanzee genomes have been sequenced, scientists have started to tease out what the differences in DNA sequence between our species mean at a functional level. Some intriguing possibilities have emerged, but I think we are a long way from being able to genetically engineer enhanced intelligence in either humans or chimps. That's not to say it won't be possible someday, but certainly not in the next couple of years.

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1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:03 AM

    Now available from Hasslein Books...

    Timeline of the Planet of the Apes: The Definitive Chronology, by Rich Handley

    322 pages--covering the entire Planet of the Apes saga, including the films, TV series, cartoons, novels, comics and other tales, and even a number of unpublished works.


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