It nearly happened - SCHWARZENEGGER in RETURN OF THE APES - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Rob McCarthy looks back at a proposed 'Apes' movie that nearly happened in the mid 90s.

As Dawn of the Planet of the Apes arrives in cinemas, and Caesar conquers all, I thought it would be interesting to look back at the proposed Oliver Stone/Arnold Schwarzenegger Apes movie that we almost got 20 years ago. 

In 1994 Oliver Stone was set to produce a new take on Planet of the Apes, in an aim to bring the franchise back to the screen. This wouldn't just be a remake, but a whole new re-imagining of the story. The project was called Return of the Apes and would have an element quite like the latest Apes movies; a plague begins to wipe out mankind, bringing them near the threat of extinction.

The plague is not a virus like the one from Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, instead the human life cycle starts to accelerate exponentially so that we begin to die of old age before even leaving the womb. Pretty gruesome stuff. I'm assuming it would be a little Children of Men, in that no new babies are born and all we have left are the generation alive. 

A geneticist named Will Robinson discovers that the plague is actually a genetic time bomb created back in the Stone Age. He and a colleague, Billie Rae Diamond, travel back in time to when early humans are at war with highly evolved apes. They discover that it was these apes that placed the plague in our DNA. They also meet a young human girl who could hold the key to stopping the virus and save humanity.

Arnold Schwarzenegger was attached to star, he would've either been the geneticist (unlikely) or the leader of the Stone Age humans (more likely). Oliver Stone envisioned the movie being quite Tolkein-esque, and it would've been filled with Biblical references, as Stone himself explained in an interview:
"It has the discovery of cryogenically frozen Vedic Apes who hold the secret numeric codes to the Bible that foretold the end of civilizations. It deals with past versus the future. My concept is that there's a code inscribed in the Bible that predicts all historical events. The apes were there at the beginning and figured it all out.”

The project came very near to happening until one studio executive insisted they add more humor to the script. You can read the first draft of that 1996 version here, which includes a bizarre segment where one of the humans from the future teaches the apes to play baseball! It also included a nod to the original movie with a plain weird Statue of Liberty scene at the end. The two stranded scientist build a small version of Lady Liberty out of some Stone Age junk (presumably stone?). 

All the parties involved felt that Return of the Apes needed to go in a different direction, but no one could agree on which one. So ultimately the project fell apart, until eventually Tim Burton got his hands on the franchise, and the rest, as they say, is history.


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