Forty-three-year-old spoiler alert! At the end of 1968's "Planet of the Apes," Charlton Heston stumbles into one of the great twists in movie history, discovering that the land full of talking simians and enslaved humans is not some alien world but, as the half-buried Statue of Liberty reveals, our own Earth.
Ever since, the franchise has been engrained in our pop-culture DNA, introducing a series of damn-dirty-apes and God-damn-you-all-to hell catchphrases and spawning a series of increasingly silly sequels, the last of which was Tim Burton's forgettable-if-not-so-infuriatingly-vapid "Planet of the Apes." Time (and Hollywood), in other words, has been about as kind to the franchise as nuclear weapons were to Heston's apocalyptic surroundings.
All that, however, is about to change. Director Rupert Wyatt has delivered, in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," a prequel that not only is a worthy successor to the original film, but stands on its own as a kick-ass summer flick. How'd he pull off such a feat? That's an answer to be found in our cheat sheet: everything you need to know about "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."
In the Beginning
In spring 2010, it was simply called "Rise of the Apes," Fox's attempt to resurrect the franchise after Burton delivered a hefty box-office gross but failed to excite the masses about those dirty apes. James Franco reportedly beat out a line of young Hollywood talent for the role of the scientist who, on a quest to cure Alzheimer's, accidently creates a super-smart chimp that ... oh, just refer back to the film's title and you'll get the idea.
Freida Pinto soon signed on to play his love interest (and a brillz scientist in her own right), John Lithgow joined up to play Franco's Alzheimer's-afflicted father and Tom Felton became a cruel guard of an ape prison. But the true casting coup came when Andy Serkis, who played a motion-capture Gollum in the "Lord of the Rings" series, took on the role of the ape Caesar, the CGI leader of his kind's revolution.
All this promised to make this "Apes" far different than any before it, a point Franco emphasized when we caught up with him last October. "Where the other films provide commentary about class relations, race relations, interspecies relations, different cultures clashing, this movie is more of a Frankenstein story," he said.
A New World
Production kicked off in summer 2010, but we wouldn't get our first official peek at the movie until the following February, when a rather uninspiring photo of Franco in character popped up online. April brought not only a tweaked title (it was now, rather longwindedly, called "Rise of the Planet of the Apes"), but the first footage. Damn, those apes looked good! Credit goes to the techies at Weta Digital, who created the motion-captured aliens in "Avatar" and the creatures running wild in the new "Ape" footage.
"I watched it a hundred times," Felton told us about the trailer. "The special effects are ridiculous. The first question when I showed it to my friends was, 'Wow, how did they get the monkeys so well-trained?' I'm like, 'None of them were real!' It's quite weird to see so much CG effects in the real world, not some computer-generated world like 'Avatar.' "
The summer months brought a slew of new trailers, clips and photos — almost too many. Leave us a little mystery, OK? But then again, when you have a movie whose title essentially gives away the ending, there's not a lot to be spoiled, right?
Franco feared his high public profile would affect the reception of the film. Wyatt, though, wasn't worried. "I think people are going to see this film, hopefully, for the film," he told MTV News. "Those that will go see this film for James Franco will still see the film for James Franco. I totally understand where he's coming from. Obviously he took a bit of a knock with the Oscars, but at the end of the day, he's an actor and that's his job."
And Franco is part of one of our favorite popcorn flicks of the summer. So where does the franchise go from here? That depends a lot on how action at the box office shakes out. But the film is certainly set up for a sequel, and Wyatt knows exactly where he wants to take the story.
"This is a very, very self-contained film in the same way that you can say 'Spartacus' is," he explained. "I mean, it's the story of a revolutionary microcosm. And yes, there will potentially be a greater conflict, a more global conflict, a more continental conflict, in terms of what comes after this. And that would be wonderful."
Check out everything we've got on "Rise of the Planet of the Apes."
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