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Monkey See, Monkey Don't

By Jeff Berkwits
From Cinescape Magazine, January/February, 1999

A remake gets made because a studio exec thinks it's a good idea, not because anyone's actually clamoring to see it. Did legions of fans picket Columbia/Tri-Star demanding a big budget Godzilla remake? Did radical Mighty Joe Young supporters threaten to blow up the Hollywood sign unless Tinseltown made a new version?

But there is an exception to this remake rule of thumb: Planet of the Apes. Sci-fi fans are thrilled that James Cameron (Webmaster Note: This article was written before Cameron left the project) might actually redo the 1968 classic in his own inimitable style. But while genre buffs salivate at the thought of an Apes retread, at least one Hollywood insider isn't going ape over the idea.

"I don't think it would work anymore," says Mort Abrahams, the associate producer of the original flick and cowriter of the first sequel, Beneath the Planet of the Apes. "You'd have to deal with very different issues."

According to Abrahams, the turbulent social environment of the 1960s was a crucial factor in the first movie's success. "The story had two levels," he explains. "It had both action and contemplative components, and those more thoughtful elements were important in the context of the times... If you wanted to make a thoughtful film today, you'd have to substitute contemporary problems."

Nonetheless, Cameron wants to write and produce an Apes update. "Every time I see a reference to it in the paper, I think, 'What would I do?'" Abrahams says. "It has to be so different that it bears no resemblance to Planet of the Apes, so why even call it Planet of the Apes?

Rumors about the new movie even place the action on another world, which Abrahams believes changes everything. "The basic concept -- the destruction of our planet by nuclear devices, only to have these guys out  in space return and find that they're actually back on Earth -- that idea obviously can't work. You throw that out, and you throw out the political, social, and economic elements. And what do you have left? Nothing. Just a title."