Planet Of The Apes | The lost 1990s sequel starring Arnold Schwarzenegger

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There were no new Planet Of The Apes movies in the 1990s, but 20th Century Fox wanted one with Arnold Schwarzenegger and ape baseball.

NB: This feature contains spoilers for the ending of 1968’s original Planet Of The Apes, but none of the sequels.

There’s no franchise quite like Planet Of The Apes. The original run of five movies are low-budget films with huge ambition and socio-political resonance. And that’s continued as the franchise has evolved in the 21st century, even though it eschews the traditional ape makeup for digital effects – this week’s new instalment, Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes, is unusual in that it’s reportedly got a lower budget than the 2010s trilogy starring Andy Serkis.

Director Wes Ball told The Direct: “I think the studio is very happy that we did the movie responsibly. And that’s just the nature of the box office going down. We’re not going to spend as much on these movies.”

Granted, Kingdom has still got a much bigger budget than those original movies, but the franchise has found its way and seems as popular and profitable as it ever was. It’s also no surprise that it wasn’t productive in the period of transition from the old model of franchise cinema to the current one.

In the decade where Hollywood spent millions on trying to make Nicolas Cage’s Superman fight a giant mechanical spider, the net result of 20th Century Fox trying to develop new Apes movies throughout the 1990s was Tim Burton’s “re-imagining”, released in 2001. Whatever you think of that movie, it’s comfortably on the lower end of most fan rankings.

Various writers, directors, and producers were involved throughout the decade, developing several iterations of the project under the working title Return Of The Apes. In the process, they came up with some ideas that later trickled into the 2001 movie and the more successful reboot trilogy. Then again, at another point, the planned sequel might also have seen Arnold Schwarzenegger teaching apes to play baseball…

Return Of The Apes

The original film series wrapped up with 1973’s Battle For The Planet Of The Apes, which drew more mixed and negative reviews than usual. Two television series (one live-action, one animated) followed in the years immediately after and then the franchise was parked for a while. And by the late 1980s, Fox was looking to revamp it.

There were two successive pitches on the go in the following years, and they both stalled due to changing studio regimes at Fox. The first was Adam Rifkin’s modestly budgeted swords-and-sandals spectacular, Return To The Planet Of The Apes, which had Rick Baker and Danny Elfman attached on makeup and scoring duties respectively. The project was fast-tracked but stopped by new Fox executives just days before pre-production began.

The next was Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh’s pitch for a sequel set during the planet’s artistic renaissance, with civil unrest arising around a half-ape, half-human protagonist – think on the implications of that one for a second – and franchise regular Roddy McDowall playing a Da Vinci-esque ape figure. Jackson pitched the film in 1992 and walked away the same year, after a bad meeting with incoming head of production Tom Jacobson.

The following year, Fox hired producers Don Murphy and Jane Hamsher to make the next Planet Of The Apes film. They brought Oliver Stone aboard as an executive producer, and he hired Terry Hayes, writer of Dead Calm and the Mad Max sequels, to write the script for a movie titled Return Of The Apes.

Hayes’ script revolves around two geneticists – Will Robinson and Billie Rae Diamond – who trace the origins of a plague that’s causing widespread infant fatalities in the near future. Travelling back in time to the Stone Age, they discover Palaeolithic humans are at war with highly evolved apes, who have created the virus that will eventually destroy humans. It’s also loaded with Biblical allusions and, weirdly, blatant references to The Lord Of The Rings – at this stage, you’d think Jackson would have characters called Aragorn, Strider, and Nazgul on his mind more than Stone et al.

Return Of The Apes was a big hit at Fox, with studio president Peter Chernin calling it “one of the best scripts I ever read”. Arnold Schwarzenegger also loved the script, and in 1994, the same year he was nominated for a Golden Globe for playing a geneticist in Junior, he was attached to play Will Robinson.

Schwarzenegger also had director approval on the film, and though Chuck Russell (who later made Eraser) was reportedly considered, Entertainment Weekly reported that the star wanted Phillip Noyce, who’d also directed Dead Calm and Harrison Ford’s Jack Ryan movies, and got him. So, what went wrong?

Playing ball

The Man With The Bag star Arnold Schwarzenegger, previously in Jingle All The Way

With Arnie aboard and Fox’s franchise hopes pinned on it, the film was now in the $100-million range, still an uncommonly large budget in the mid-1990s. But the studio higher-uppers, and specifically production executive Dylan Sellers, bristled at the darker tone of Hayes’ script.

As told in David Hughes’ excellent 2012 book Tales From Development Hell: The Greatest Movies Never Made?, Hamsher says that Sellers wanted to add humour to the script, saying:

“What if Robinson finds himself in Ape land and the Apes are trying to play baseball? But they’re missing one element, like the pitcher or something. […] Robinson knows what they’re missing, and he shows them, and they all start playing.”

Everyone else involved hated the idea. And when Hayes turned in his next draft without the baseball scene, Sellers fired him. Fox also took Murphy and Hamsher off the project, which prompted Stone to focus on other projects and Noyce to go and make The Saint for Paramount instead.

Murphy later said: “Terry wrote a Terminator and Fox wanted The Flintstones.”

Only Schwarzenegger remained attached as the project passed to director Chris Columbus and writer Sam Hamm, who were hired to provide a more family-friendly and comedic take. Hamm’s script begins and ends in contemporary New York and its various highlights include apes singing and dancing to “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees, a Playboy Magazine gag involving primate Playmates, and the Statue of Liberty’s face being replaced by an ape’s grinning likeness, in a reference to the original ending.

When Columbus left the project, Fox decided it wanted something in between the dark and the light. In 1997, Schwarzenegger reached out to regular collaborator James Cameron to get involved.

Then well into making Titanic, Cameron would have stepped into a role similar to Stone’s, executive-producing and co-writing the film, and possibly directing. Stan Winston was commissioned to create makeup and creature effects, which Cameron used to bring Peter Hyams as a writer and producer.

“It was absolute perfection”, Hyams told Daily Dead in 2014, “I couldn’t believe that Stan actually cracked it. I even asked Stan about how he managed to pull it off, but he wouldn’t tell me – I just remember thinking it was absolutely stunning work and it was a real shame that fans never got to see Stan’s vision for these apes come to life.”

The rest, you might be able to guess – Titanic became a worldwide phenomenon upon release and Cameron resolved to work on his own projects rather than existing studio IP and that was seemingly the end of that.

Fall and Rise

After a few more years of rolling Planet Of The Apes around, Tim Burton signed up to direct his “re-imagining” of the 1968 original in early 2000. The movie, simply titled Planet Of The Apes, was in cinemas by 2001. We’ve written about that film and its possibly Hamm-inspired cliffhanger finale elsewhere:

Read more: Tim Burton’s Planet Of The Apes, and its controversial ending

The film was a decent-sized box-office hit but a disaster with critics and filmgoers. Plus, Burton famously remarked that he’d “rather jump out a window” than make a sequel, so it’s not only a cliffhanger without a resolution, but after all that effort, a Planet Of The Apes reboot without a sequel.

Later, Peter Chernin stepped down as president of Fox in 2009 and set up his film and TV production company Chernin Entertainment. Its first film? 2011’s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, which also features a geneticist human lead (played by James Franco, not Arnold Schwarzenegger, and called Will Rodman, perhaps to avoid confusion with the Lost In Space character) and a plague that will wipe out humanity.

Incidentally, as well as offering the movie to Michael Bay, Roland Emmerich, and the Hughes brothers after Cameron’s departure, Fox twice went back to Peter Jackson. Deep in prep on the Lord Of The Rings movies, but he turned them down. But his work with Andy Serkis and WETA Digital throughout that trilogy teed up a lot of the motion-capture effects that would be used in the excellent 2010s Apes trilogy, starring Serkis as Caesar. Funny how things work out, isn’t it?

And we haven’t seen Kingdom Of The Planet Of The Apes yet, but ape baseball has yet to appear in the franchise – if that’s what you fancy though, the 2013 Korean action comedy Mr Go has got you covered.

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