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Fox goes ‘Ape’ for Burton

Director in negotiations for sci-fi remake

It looks like the director who brought you the man with scissors for hands, revived Washington Irving’s most famous tale and sparked the imagination with his dark “Batman” may next be turning to talking apes.

At week’s end, Tim Burton was in late-stage negotiations to direct 20th Century Fox’s remake of the 1968 sci-fi classic “Planet of the Apes.” If the project — which has languished for years — really gets made, it could be Fox’s tentpole of tentpoles for summer 2001.

Burton’s signing would open a new chapter in the story of “Planet of the Apes.”

Gestation frustration

Industry heavyweights such as Oliver Stone, Chris Columbus, James Cameron and Arnold Schwarzenegger have been attached to the project in one way or another in a development history reaching back to 1993 — longer than it took to make the original and four sequels. But the remake had never come close to going before the cameras.

Things picked up considerable steam in recent weeks as Fox Filmed Entertainment chairman/CEO Bill Mechanic, Fox Film Group president Tom Rothman and Hutch Parker, president of the studios’ TCF production arm, exercised personal control over the project. With a new script in hand from scribe Bill Broyles, Fox recently began shopping the project to directors.

Clandestine operation

The secrecy with which the search for a helmer ensued — with scripts going directly from Fox execs to directors themselves and no copies freely available for agents to read — was a sign of the high priority the film has at Fox.

That furtiveness has encouraged speculation about the plot of the film.

Insiders have described it as neither a sequel nor a remake, but a “re-imagining” of the original series.

Sources also indicate the lead for the pic will drop considerably in age.

Original star Charlton Heston was 44. Broyles’ version focuses on someone more in the age group of Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon.

Pic is also likely to be a marketing bonanza of toys and tie-ins — a potential revenue-generating monster that has Fox extremely eager to push the film forward — especially after a rather lean 1999.

Odd choice

The choice of the idiosyncratic Burton is particularly intriguing because word was out that the studio was extremely happy with Broyles’ script and was looking for a director ready to proceed quickly into casting and pre-production — rather than spending precious time rewriting. Burton, on the other hand, is known for his unique vision, and it remains to be seen how his creative take will mesh with Broyles’.

The pic takes its inspiration from one of the most successful film series ever. The 1968 first installment, “Planet of the Apes,” had astronaut Heston unwittingly discovering the Earth of the future — with human civilization destroyed by nuclear conflict and apes running the show.

Four sequels ensued (although these were the days before sequels had numbers in their titles): “Beneath the Planet of the Apes” (1970), “Escape From the Planet of the Apes” (1971), “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” (1972) and “Battle for the Planet of the Apes” (1973).

Burton, who first made his mark with the cult favorite “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” in 1985, struck it big with “Batman” in 1989. He also helmed “Edward Scissorhands” and “Ed Wood,” both with Johnny Depp. He currently has the Depp starrer “Sleepy Hollow” in theaters; so far it’s pulled in more than $135 million worldwide since its release late in 1999. The director is repped by the William Morris Agency.

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