Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opens this weekend and is easily one of my favorite movies of the summer. I could go on and on about it forever, but that’s off topic, and if you’re interested in my thoughts on the matter, you can read my review. In 2011, Rise of the Planet of the Apes rebooted the franchise and was better than most of us expected, but that wasn’t the first attempt to revisit the ape-dominated Earth. Most of you remember what happened when Tim Burton and Mark Wahlberg tried in 2001, leaving a foul taste in our mouth that still lingers (Dawn should go a long way towards healing those old wounds), but there was one other attempt that most people don’t know about. In the 1990s Oliver Stone and Arnold Schwarzenegger tried to get a reboot off the ground. It didn’t go anywhere, but it would have been completely insane.
After Natural Born Killers dropped in 1994, producers Don Murphy and Jane Hamsher needed something new to work on, and attempted to enlist Stone in a Planet of the Apes reboot called Return of the Apes. Stone wasn’t particularly interested, and a meeting with studio execs wasn’t going well. That is, until Stone threw out this pitch: “What if time were not linear, but circular, and there was no difference between the past and the future?…And what if there were discovered cryogenically frozen Vedic Apes who held the secret numeric codes to the Bible that foretold the end of civilization?”
That’s a wee bit on the crazy side, but the studio loved it, gave Stone a bunch of money, and there was even a script from Terry Hayes (The Road Warrior, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome). Apparently this caught the eye of Schwarzenegger, who at this stage of his career was fresh off of huge movies like Terminator 2 and True Lies, and things were progressing nicely. Here are some fun, if ridiculous, details.
As strange as this already sounds, it only gets stranger when you learn about what the actual movie would have contained. There would have been nods to the original films, of course, but also all manner of pop culture references, like lines talking about Lost in Space and Star Wars, or how about apes named Strider and Nazgul after The Lord of the Rings? As you can imagine from Stone’s description, where was a time travel element, but it involves DNA holding the secret to accomplishing this feat, as well as a weird virus that time travelling humans need to cure.
That apes military technology also had a serious steampunk influence to it, including a giant flame-thrower tank that Schwarzenegger would have helmed. How awesome would that have been? One character was also slated to get a blood transfusion, though human intestines figured prominently into the process, which just can’t be all that sanitary when you think about it.
Many societies have rites and rituals for young people becoming adults, and this version of ape civilization is no different, and the script featured a “manhood ceremony.” Also, if you imagined that Charlton Heston’s iconic “damn dirty ape” line would make an appearance, you wouldn’t be wrong. The honor, of course, was scheduled to go to Schwarzenegger’s potential character Will. He would have been saving a female character from one of these unclean apes.
The Statue of Liberty also figures prominently in this version of Apes, though not in the way you may expect. Because Arnold is always a hero, Will saves the day for the human race, but is stuck in this particular past, unable to return to his present. What does he do, you might ask? He builds a replica of the Statue of Liberty out of iron, rock, and sand to “make sure we never forget where we came from.” Like whoa. While that sounds absolutely amazing reading it now, just picture yourself sitting in a movie theater and this happens. You would hate this sooooo much, oh my god, this would be one of those moments that you never forget, that you pile disdain on for the rest of your life. This would be like Anakin/Darth Vader yelling “Nooooooo” in Revenge of the Sith. It would never go away.
So why didn’t this happen? Aside from the fact that it sounds batshit insane, the studio was behind it, there was a big name star and director attached, they even had a script? The answer, surprisingly enough, is baseball. Executive producer Dylan Sellers (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) came in and decided that what the script really needed was a game of baseball, played by the apes, coached by Schwarzenegger. He compared it to The Flintstones. This makes just as much sense as anything else in this movie, so why the hell not? Sellers fixated on this idea, fired Hayes in order to make it happen, but when the production never found another writer, the momentum faded, Schwarzenegger and Stone bailed, and the whole thing collapsed.
What do you think? Would you have liked to see a wing-nut reworking of the Planet of the Apes directed by Oliver Stone, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and featuring Statue of Liberty sand castle? While I can say, without pause, that yes, I absolutely want to see this and wish it was real, I’m sure it would have been absolutely atrocious and made all of us just as sad as Tim Burton’s version.