The following contains spoilers for Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes.
Directed by Rupert Wyatt, Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes was one of the most pleasant surprises of 2011: a reboot of a much-loved series that actually matched its predecessor in terms of intelligence and craft. Featuring a spectacular leading performance from Andy Serkis as Caesar, an ape granted extraordinary intelligence as part of a scientific research project, Rise breathed new life into the Apes franchise, which scaled even greater heights with 2014’s Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes.
Next year, Dawn director Matt Reeves returns with War For The Planet Of The Apes, which continues the saga of apes versus humans on a post-apocalyptic Earth. When we visited the Vancouver set of War last year, producer Dylan Clark, who’s overseen all of the movies in the new Apes saga so far, talked candidly about the making of the movies, and how he was initially reluctant to be involved with the franchise until he read the script; it was the ingenious idea of making Caesar the protagonist of the new series that finally won him over.
Not everything in the Rise screenplay filled Clark with joy, however. As originally written, the human co-star – James Franco’s scientist Will Rodman – would have been shot and killed by the owner of the prison-like primate shelter. That scene, which would’ve had Brian Cox’s John Landon gun down Rodman, was in the script right up until the time of shooting, according to Clark; it was then that the producer realised the scene was, to use his own word, “idiotic.”
“In the first movie, in the script for Rise, James Franco dies,” Clark told us. “Then we didn’t kill him. We were shooting, and I remember saying, “You know what? This is just gonna be a bummer. People are just gonna be like, ‘Augh’. It was a dumb scene is the truth. We had Brian Cox coming out of nowhere and shooting James Franco. The scene, dramatically, was idiotic. And worse, it just made you feel bad. It was just like, ‘Oh my God, this is the worst movie ever.'”
As a result, the plot was changed during the shoot so that Rodman survives the movie – hence the quietly emotional scene at the end where he and Caesar are given a final moment to say goodbye before the apes head off into the forest.
This modification to Rise did throw up a minor mystery, however: what happened to Will Rodman? You might recall that James Franco had a cameo in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, but that was on a television screen; the filmmakers found some unused footage of Franco’s performance from Rise and recycled it for the sequel. (Amusingly, Franco didn’t even know they’d done this.)
Given that most of humanity was wiped out by the virus that Rodman inadvertently helped to create, we can probably assume that he was one of the millions who died off-camera between the events of Rise and Dawn. But according to Clark, we may still get a proper look at what happened to Franco’s character in next year’s War For The Planet Of The Apes:
“We figured out our mistakes, and we let the audience figure out what happened to Will for itself – you know, he probably died by the virus is what we thought. In this movie [War For The Planet Of The Apes], you might find out what happened. You might find out.”
War For The Planet Of The Apes is out in July 2017.