We're not sure that there was a bigger surprise this year than "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes." A tired franchise, from a creative-interference-happy studio, with a green director and a plot straight from "Deep Blue Sea?" Even without the initially unpromising trailers, it looked like a late-summer flop. But happily, it was nothing of the kind: the film became easily the warmest-received blockbusters of the summer, launched director Rupert Wyatt onto the A-list, and has taken an impressive $400 million haul; not bad for a film that allegedly cost less than many of its tentpole competitors. A franchise was (re)born.
But if future sequels do follow -- and there's been no announcement yet, but we can't imagine it's too far off -- there's one character who's lucky if he does end up coming back, seeing that only six weeks before the film was released, he was killed off at the end. The Hollywood Reporter were at the Visual Effects Society Production Summit over the weekend, where Fox's president of post-production, Ted Gagliano, revealed that Will Rodman, the human lead of the film, as played by James Franco, was only saved from death by reshoots that took place only a month before the film hit theaters.
Gagliano explained that initially, director Rupert Wyatt and the scriptwriters planned for Rodman to die at the conclusion of the film's final setpiece, but was reprieved at the last minute, with Franco and Andy Serkis being called back for reshoots over the Fourth of July weekend. Given the heavy visual effects elements, this added fresh headaches for a film that was already on a tight schedule: the movie was set to open at Thanksgiving, but was moved to August less than six months before the fact.
Indeed, the draft of the script we have, by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, dated January 2010, confirms that Will died saving Caesar's life in the final forest showdown: as below.
Gagliano frames it as a creative decision, which might well have been the case -- after all, most of the film was crafted with thought and care. But it's also possible that when Fox realized they might have a hit on their hands, they decided they'd rather keep their star alive , to keep a human lead about for future films. Furthermore, Gagliano acknowledges that additional endings like this can help shift DVDs: "The other thing we really want to institutionalize at Fox for these after markets, is the importance of alternative scenes and supplemental material. For example, we thought James Franco's character should die (in Apes), so we are going to sell (the alternative clip) down the road.”
Yay for wringing out every last penny you can! For anyone out there still angry about the job he did hosting the Oscars, we imagine you'll be able to get some satisfaction watching Franco bite the dust when the film hits DVD later in the year or early in 2012.