5. The Young Ape's Manhood Ceremony
Page 113: "A young ape, barely in his teens, stands in the middle of the room, almost naked. His face is painted with strange ochre markings. A circle of ape warriors watch as Ma-Gog lifts a slender blade...and slices the Teenager's forehead. The Teenager winces but doesn't cry out - this is his manhood ceremony."
This one is pretty straight forward, as this ceremony was only a catalyst for our human characters to do some sneaking. It does get pretty intense, though, as you can imagine after some of the stuff we've already seen. A 12-year old human boy is separated from his mother and forced into the ring to be the Ape Teenager's first kill. The crowd, relentless as ever, chants "Kill! Kill! Kill!" Just in time, the alarm sounds, sending the crowd into a frenzy and saving the human boy. He sees his opportunity and raises his spear, driving it "deep into the ape's groin." The ape slumps dead and traps the boy beneath his dead body. Later, the boy's mother finds him, and even though his rib cage has been slashed open, he's ok.
Part of what enticed Arnold about this script was his desire for a "bloody, violent, gory ape movie." Hamsher recalls meeting with him in his Conan-ified lair and hearing his enthusiasm for the project. However, the script was already written before Arnold was attached, so this was not a case of writing to accommodate star power. Which may be hard to believe during this next scene...
6. "Dirty Ape" Drak Meets His Demise
Page 124: "Drak aims the harpoon. He's got Eve and Diamond, one behind the other, in his sights. On The Claw, Will spins a small steering wheel...."
Drak is pretty ruthless, and shoots Aragorn though the chest with a harpoon. Eve and Diamond, who serve as this film's Newt and Ripley, are next on his list, but Will has other plans. Drak aims. Will, in the Claw, comes chasing after him, the iron jaws wide open. Drak screams and runs. Will flips a lever, and then... "Keep your hands off her, you dirty ape."
Arnold delivering a variation of Charlton Heston's classic line. Since this film's style is so radically different from the source material, it's hard to say if this moment would have been a triumph for Apes fans, or more of a slap in the face. But after that setup, it seems perfect for Arnold, and certainly had all the makings of a crowd pleaser.
So Will says the line and scoops up Drak with The Claw. Clumsy with the controls, he flips levers as Drak fires the harpoon gun. As Will finds the 'squeeze' lever, he stares Drak in the eye, watching until his hand goes limp. Holding Drak high above the other apes, they watch in horror as he is cut in half and everything from the waist down falls to the ground. The humans attack and the apes retreat.
7. Statue of Liberty
Page 127: "The surf rolls in on a golden beach. At the water's edge, a line of footprints. We follow them to find Will on top of a rocky cliff. He's building something out of iron and rock and sand but we can't make out what it is.
So Will and Diamond do indeed defeat the virus after tracking down the group of test subjects the apes were using for experiments. We also discover that they are stuck in the past, and will not be able to return to where they came from. So what do you do when you can't get back home to modern civilization? After you've saved man but are doomed to live with the apes?
You build a Statue of Liberty out of rock and sand and iron. Will says proudly as the film closes, "It's to make sure we never forget where we came from." Would this have been another facepalm moment for most Apes fans? Essentially Will has built a Statue of Liberty steampunk sandcastle, forcing the classic Apes imagery into this modern aesthetic. Reading that line in Arnold's voice, imagining how ludicrous that situation is, induces a grin and chuckle. But after such a huge production, and with that statement at the end, grins and chuckles aren't exactly the desired effect. This ending, along with some tonal issues, make it a tricky sell for Apes fans, but given Stone's opinion of the series it's safe to say they weren't really a target demographic.
So in what realm of film development hell does this gem reside? What exactly went wrong? Jane Hamsher says in Killer Instinct that co-producer Don Murphy got into the film business because of Planet of the Apes. How could he have let this project die? For all the dramatic departures in style to the original series, the script reads well and is the product of a unified (albeit wacky as hell) vision. The answer to these questions is simple: Executive producer Chris Meledandri was promoted to Fox Family, and left the Apes project to a new Executive Producer, Dylan Sellers. Sellers had a vision that rivals Stone's in ridiculousness, although in Stone's defense he wasn't a fan and was starting from scratch. Sellers comes in, reads the script, and knows EXACTLY what the film needs: Baseball. Played by the apes, but coached by Arnold. "What if our main guy finds himself in Ape land, and the Apes are trying to play a game like baseball, but they're missing one element, like the pitcher or something. And when our guy comes along, he knows what they're missing, and he shows them, and they all start playing. Kind of like the Flintstones."
Sellers convinced himself this idea was necessary, and when the script didn't reflect that, Terry Hayes was fired. Just like that. A new writer was never found, and the whole thing fizzled out. Arnold's attachment loosened, and Stone sure wasn't sticking his neck out for the project. After all, he had already been paid for his initial idea, and it was easy for him to step out of the director role.
Jane Hamsher and Don Murphy went on to produce the Double Dragon film among numerous others, and were able to work with Hayes again when they brought him on to adapt Alan Moore's graphic novel From Hell. After the rollercoaster of a script and the behind-the-scenes politics, Return of the Apes was shelved. A few years later, Sam Hamm would use it as a starting point for a new script, keeping the rapid-aging virus. Versions were passed around, writers left and came, but by the time Tim Burton's remake came out, any evidence of Return of the Apes had disappeared. Burton's Apes wasn't exactly a fan-pleaser, and this 1994 screenplay may not have been either. One thing is clear, though: the film wouldn't have been boring, and probably would have fit right in with Arnold's other classics from the era.
A non-formatted, typo-filled version of the script can be read online, but it is a different version than I read. Diamond's line about Lost in Space is removed, as well as some other differences. Oddly enough, it says 'first draft' and is dated 1996, whereas mine was 1994 and also says 'first draft'. Hamm was working on his version of Apes in 1996, so if anybody has info on that feel free to share. I'd like to thank Scott Bradley for supplying a legitimate hard copy, as well as lending me Killer Instinct.
The amazing concept art was by Matthew Steele.
Also by Bryce Abood: