Reviving the "Planet Of The Apes" franchise has been a top priority for 20th Century Fox for well over a decade now, and even before they made the Tim Burton version of the film in 2001, they had spent years of development time and millions of dollars trying to figure out how to re-introduce talking monkeys to the general population.

In many ways, modern franchise filmmaking began with "Planet Of The Apes," not "Star Wars."  Over the course of five movies and both a live-action and an animated television series in the '70s, several variations were played on the basic idea of our modern-day society colliding with a future where apes have become the dominant species and mankind has become a subservient species.  Time-travel got involved and eventually the series folded in on itself.

The Tim Burton film was supposed to kick off a whole new series, but poisonous critical reaction and general public indifference killed that plan.  Recently, writer/director Scott Frank worked for a while to create a script called "Caesar" which would have jumpstarted the series, starting from a new beginning that would hopefully fold into the original run of movies, narratively-speaking.  That version also stalled out, and now Fox is moving forward with a film that will incorporate ideas from a number of different incarnations over the years.

One of the ideas that they've held onto from draft to draft, filmmaker to filmmaker, no matter how many times it didn't work previously, is the notion of a genetic engineer whose work leads accidentally to the rise of the apes.  Considering this new version is titled "Rise Of The Apes," there's a good chance we're going to finally see them use the idea.  It's like Jon Peters, who spent a decade trying to work a giant spider into a film before finally getting one onscreen in "Wild Wild West."  If Fox is lucky, maybe this film will turn out just as good as that one did.

Here's the official press release that Fox sent out today:

"Twentieth Century Fox has set a June 24, 2011 release for RISE OF THE APES, a completely new take on one of the Studio’s most beloved and successful franchises. Oscar®-winning visual effects house WETA Digital – employing certain of the groundbreaking technologies developed for AVATAR – will render, for the first time ever in the film series, photo-realistic apes rather than costumed actors.

Peter Chernin and Dylan Clark will produce for Chernin Entertainment under its new pact with Fox. Acclaimed filmmaker Rupert Wyatt (“The Escapist”) is directing from a screenplay by Amanda Silver & Rick Jaffa, who also are producing.

RISE OF THE APES (tentative title) is an origin story in the truest sense of the term. Set in present day San Francisco, the film is a reality-based cautionary tale, a science fiction/science fact blend, where man’s own experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy."

I feel bad about my skepticism here, because I think Rupert Wyatt's a promising filmmaker, and I would recommend that people track down "The Escapist" to check it out.  And WETA does some of the best digital character work in the business, so I'm sure their work bringing the apes to life will be absolutely cutting edge.  But it is amazing that at this point in the timeline, studios haven't figured out that NO ONE CARES ABOUT PREQUELS.  They are narrative dead ends, and there is absolutely no audience out there demanding them.

It's hard to even figure out why prequels and needless origins have become the default for studios.  It's not like they're automatically cheaper or easier.  They're not some guaranteed secret formula to financial success.  Prequels are the sort of thing that only a businessman would think is the way to keep an audience happy and/or engaged.

I'll be curious to see if the "Apes" brand is still strong at all, or if this is going to be an exercise in nostalgia that manages to infuriate the original fans while winning over absolutely nobody new.

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