Vulture has learned that contrary to reports that saddened cinephile simiaphiles everywhere last week, Twentieth Century Fox has not given up on rebooting Planet of the Apes. In fact, insiders familiar with the situation insist the studio is now more determined than ever to make the film, albeit with different DNA: The Apes have been handed to none other than Peter Chernin, who last summer exited his post as top banana of News Corporation to become a producer at Fox.
The Internet rumors of the reboot’s demise likely germinated when it was discovered that all-star writer Scott Frank had left the project, an origin story showing just how the apes became so smart. Frank was also supposed to direct the film for producer Scott Rudin, and because Frank had crafted the scripts for such Fox hits as Minority Report and Marley & Me, it’s easy to see how his departure might be misconstrued as the studio’s loss of interest in the project. But no: Production and agency insiders both confirm that Fox has hired writer Jamie Moss (Street Kings) to rework Frank’s version, and the original writers, Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (The Relic, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle), were recently brought back to polish the dialogue.
Frank’s Apes script, code-named Caesar, showed how genetic experiments on apes led to their evolutionary eclipse of humans. “Caesar” refers to the genetically altered leader of the simian rebellion, so dubbed because the ape was capable of grand strategic thinking on par with Julius Caesar (whose own surname means “hairy” in Latin). The “Caesar” code name also foreshadowed the script’s plot: Just as the actual Julius Caesar set Rome on the path to the Roman Empire, the experimental ape’s escape sets in motion his fellow hirsute hominids’ (wait for it … ) guerrilla war and subsequent dominance.*
The studio, however, wanted to pursue a different tack than Frank, and the writer-director was unwilling to change direction, according to a production source. As Rudin was only on board because Frank had asked him to serve as producer (the two had enjoyed working together on Jodie Foster’s Little Man Tate twenty years ago), he left as well. But now that it’s been handed to Chernin, the presumed-dead project is red hot again. For one thing, as part of his golden parachute from News Corporation, Chernin has several “put” pictures — essentially, a commitment from the studio to get several movies made, even if the studio brass objects. But insiders tell Vulture that Chernin may not even need to waste one of his puts: The studio wants to make the Caesar project, post haste. A director is expected to be hired imminently.
Chernin had been passionate about this franchise long before Tim Burton did his 2001 remake. Shortly after Chernin became head of Fox Filmed Entertainment in 1992, he had tried to revive Fox’s Apes franchise, paying Oliver Stone a million dollars to executive produce a Return of the Apes film; in David Hughes 2004 book, Tales from Development Hell, Chernin even called its script, by Terry Hayes (The Road Warrior, From Hell), “one of the best I ever read.” It centered on a geneticist who time-travels back to the Paleolithic Era, where he must help humans win a war against highly evolved apes and protect a young girl whose genes will give ultimately save mankind from a plague. (If this sounds Terminator-esque, get this: Arnold Schwarzenegger was considered for the role of the geneticist.)
But now that he’s free of the apes’ opposable-thumbed grip, whither Scott Frank? Agency insiders tell us that the Oscar-nominated screenwriter (who also wrote Out of Sight and Get Shorty) has been hired to adapt a forthcoming young-adult novel, co-written by none other than James Frey, called I Am Number Four. The book, first in a series of six, is about nine alien survivors who flee to earth after their planet is destroyed, one of whom (No. 4!) hides out in a high school from his interstellar enemies. It was optioned last summer by DreamWorks, with Michael Bay producing and Smallville creators Alfred Gough and Miles Millar adapting the script, and yesterday, the studio announced that D.J. Caruso (Disturbia) had been hired to direct. With Frank committing to work on the Gough and Millar draft, that’s a veritable crop circle of a sign that DreamWorks intends to make I Am Number Four its No.1 priority for next year.
*plot details updated since original post