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SUMMER SNEAKS

Remaking, Not Aping, an Original

Director Tim Burton, makeup artist Rick Baker and their crew were charged with making a 'Planet of the Apes' for a new century.

May 06, 2001|RICHARD NATALE | Richard Natale is a frequent contributor to Calendar

Even the devilish Tim Burton couldn't have come up with a more amusingly incongruous anthropomorphic image for his upcoming remake of "Planet of the Apes" than the sight of British actress Helena Bonham Carter, in full primate face, a cigarette dangling from her lips as she picks her nose.

It is mid-afternoon and Bonham Carter is on a break, sitting on a stoop outside a sound stage in downtown Los Angeles indulging her nicotine habit and delicately trying to scratch her real nose through the left nostril of her simian prosthesis without creasing or tearing the many folds of rubber, glue and hair that obscure her naturally porcelain skin.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Friday June 29, 2001 Home Edition Part A Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
Writing credit--A May 6 Sunday Calendar story on "Planet of the Apes" should have said Michael Wilson co-wrote the screenplay of the 1968 original.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday July 1, 2001 Home Edition Calendar Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 21 words Type of Material: Correction
Writing credit--A May 6 Sunday Calendar story on "Planet of the Apes" should have said Michael Wilson co-wrote the screenplay of the 1968 original.

Bonham Carter, famous for her many roles in British costume dramas such as "A Room With a View" and "Howards End" (she's been described as pre-Raphaelite so often that it's practically part of her name), has spent so much screen time in ornate, constricting costumes that she once swore she would never accept another role that required wearing a corset. Now she finds herself trapped behind an ape mask that requires 41/2 hours to apply every morning and almost two hours to remove. With her shooting schedule drawing to a close, Bonham Carter confesses that impatience sometimes gets the best of her, and "I tend to tear off my face." Master makeup artist Rick Baker's prosthetic design is so lifelike that Bonham Carter ably conveys a pang of guilt through its many layers.

"I must be a bit of a masochist," she says, trying to laugh. If so, she is not alone. The on-again, off-again "Planet" remake is one of the most anticipated films of the summer. It has a great deal to live up to, including the 1968 original starring Charlton Heston and its four sequels, as well as what-might-have-been ruminations if the new movie had been directed by James Cameron, Chris Columbus or Oliver Stone, who at various points had signed on. After almost a decade of false starts, "Planet" finally came together last fall and is rushing toward a July 27 opening, less than three months after the completion of principal photography.

"People keep thinking it's coming out next summer," says Burton, who is holed up in an editing room in New York, where he lives. "It's a ridiculous kind of schedule. It took longer to greenlight than to make, but that's the way things happen on movies like this. They're such big monsters that it takes an unnatural act to get them going and keep them moving."

Producer Richard Zanuck's involvement in the new "Planet of the Apes" is one of those "only in Hollywood" stories. Without him, there would never have been an original "Planet of the Apes." In 1967, when he was running 20th Century Fox, Zanuck was approached by a former publicist turned producer, Arthur Jacobs, with Rod Serling's screenplay adaptation of Pierre Boulle's novel. The project had been put in turnaround by Warner Bros., who he said "got scared of the idea" of a dominant ape culture with enslaved humans.

"When he [Jacobs] presented it to me, I didn't take it seriously," Zanuck remembers. "I only read it because of Serling [the mastermind of the classic "Twilight Zone" TV series] and because the writer of the book had also written 'Bridge on the River Kwai.' Even then I read it with skepticism."

But he became intrigued by the idea of an upside-down world. When Charlton Heston agreed to play the lead and Roddy McDowall, Kim Hunter and Edward G. Robinson accepted the prominent ape roles, Zanuck tentatively moved ahead. "I wasn't going to commit until we'd done makeup tests."

After the tests were satisfactorily completed, Robinson dropped out. "He said, 'I'm way too old to be getting into heavy makeup and eating through straws,"' Zanuck explains. (Robinson was replaced by Shakespearean actor Maurice Evans.)

Director Franklin Schaffner was signed to direct, despite misgivings that he might not be able to handle a "big" movie. At the time, Schaffner had worked mostly in television. Ironically, after "Planet of the Apes," Schaffner directed nothing but big movies, including the Oscar-winning "Patton."

That was just one of the many pleasant surprises in the history of "Planet of the Apes." Still not sure of what he had, Zanuck previewed the film for the first time in Phoenix. "If we could get by the first scene of talking apes and the audience didn't laugh hysterically, I knew we'd be OK," he recalls. The moment passed without incident and by the end of the preview the audience was applauding wildly and hanging around to discuss the film in the lobby afterward for the better part of an hour.

"I'd never seen anything like it before," Zanuck said.

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