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Remake Planet of the Apes? What Can Be Fixed?

For several years now Twentieth Century-Fox has been planning a remake of Planet of the Apes. There have been plans to have Arnold Schwarzenegger play the lead role, and two versions of the script written, one by Sam Hamm and another by Terry Hayes (see New Film for more details). The latest word is that James Cameron will write and produce the project (visit Coming Attractions for the latest info). All of this has led us to ask, what needs to be fixed?

So far they've tried rewriting the story completely, which, according to reports, has been disastrous. The new story bears little resemblance to the original film, or even the novel. So what can Cameron do to improve upon the original screenplay by Michael Wilson and the great Rod Serling? With enormous respect to Cameron, we'd say not much. Perhaps he could touch it up here and there, but frankly, we don't see where any major improvements could be made. We certainly wouldn't make it more faithful to the book. We thought Wilson and Serling were wise to go in the direction they did. In the novel, the Apes live in modern cities, drive cars, fly in airplanes, everything is the same, except that Apes are in control. We think that by changing the setting to a "primitive world," it made it seem like Taylor really was on another world, thus making the ending that much more jarring. While keeping the primitive setting, the sets could be made to look more realistic.

So, what else can Cameron do to improve upon the original? Well, it would be neat to have better special effects for the opening sequence. Like all 60s sci-fi, POTA was made before we entered the space age, so all the designs look hokey, especially the ship. It would be cool to see a space shuttle splashdown in the lake and sink, to have the astronauts wearing actual-looking space suits, and have the interior of the shuttle reflect actual technology. But all we're really talking about is a fresh coat of paint.

The best visual improvement that could be made is the apes themselves. It would be really cool to give the apes a more realistic and truly simian appearance. The gorillas would look incredible with large, broad shoulders, arched necks, and long arms. It would add a whole new impact to the scene where Taylor sees the gorillas for the first time. The orangs could also benefit from looking more like real orangs. I'd also like to see other primates, such as baboons and mandrills. A remake could definitely benefit from modern special effects make-up, which could almost be reason alone. It was a good reason to remake The Island of Dr. Moreau (1996), but unfortunately, the rest of the movie sucked. We'd also like to see a wider variety of costumes, instead of just the three basic designs. The feet could use some improvement, too.

So, the really big questions is, who should Cameron cast in the movie? First off, we'd like to nix Schwarzenegger. Don't get us wrong, we love most of Schwarzenegger's movies (especially those directed by Cameron), but don't think he's right for the role of Taylor. Taylor is an everyman, but at the same time an outsider, a man with no links to his own past, a man with weaknesses, but still tough. Harrison Ford would be good (and we think Cameron has considered, him, too). Gary Sinise would be really good. Bill Paxton (another Cameron fave) also comes to mind. Michael Biehn would be terrific (this could finally make him a star). Obviously, Fox is going to want someone with a little star power to carry the picture. We think the best method of casting Taylor is to choose an actor, then imagine him screaming, "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!" That one kills Schwarzenegger right from the start. If you can imagine someone saying that line without chuckling, then you've got a good prospect.

All of the other major roles are apes, so Cameron should follow the original's lead and cast Cornelius, Zira, Dr. Zaius, et al, for their voices. Since he's already voiced an ape in George of the Jungle, we think John Cleese should be taken out of the running immediately. Anthony Hopkins would be good. Ralph Fiennes comes to mind for Cornelius, but he's a big star now, and probably wouldn't do it. Roddy McDowall could certainly reprise his role as Cornelius, if he doesn't mind getting under the make-up again. Of course, he could always dub his lines in post-production. Patrick Stewart would make a good Dr. Zaius. Leonard Nimoy, too. Sean Connery would be cool in a cameo as the President of the Assembly. Rip Torn would be good for that role, too. Emma Thompson or Helena Bonham Carter might be good as Zira. Of course, there is one other major role left: Nova. For Nova, you need someone who looks good in an animal-skin bikini and can convey emotion without any dialogue. Casting an unknown is probably the best way to go. It worked very well the first time around in making Nova believable.

The one saving grace to this whole project (as opposed to say, Superman Sucks (aka Superman Lives and Superman Reborn), is that it's in good hands. If anyone can produce a good remake of Planet of the Apes, James Cameron can do it. Still, this production has had a rocky history already. Let's just hope it stays in Cameron's able hands.