Charlton Heston, call your agent. Twentieth Century Fox's long-anticipated "Planet of the Apes" remake is not extinct. And ditto for -- Warner Bros.' new-look "Superman" movie may fly after all.
Word comes today from the Hollywood Reporter that these big-budget sci-fi and super-hero projects -- two of the most highly anticipated movies of the 1990s that never came to pass -- may soon be salvaged from development hell after years of on-again, off-again directors and aborted screenplays.
Fox could reportedly seal a deal with Tim Burton before the end of the week to direct its "Apes" remake, while Warner officials are said to be pleased with a new "Superman" screenplay from Bill Wisher, who co-wrote "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" with James Cameron.
Fox's announcement that Burton is in talks to direct "Apes" should come as a welcome surprise for sci-fi aficionados. The project, which was first announced back in 1993, has been associated with the likes of Oliver Stone, Cameron, Chris Columbus and Arnold Schwarzenegger in the past.
Although the trade newspaper didn't cite its sources, the Burton rumor seems to fit -- at least if you believe recent whisperings. In January, movie rumor Websites such as Ain't It Cool News (www.aint-it-cool-news.com) posted information, purportedly from people close to the project, stating that a new story treatment was recently written by Andrew Kevin Walker. Walker also wrote "Sleepy Hollow," Burton's recent gothic horror hit that grossed $96 million for Paramount.
The original "Planet of the Apes" (1968), directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, was based on a book by French writer Pierre Boulle. The flick starred Heston as Taylor, a time-traveling astronaut who crash-lands on a barren planet ruled by a society of apes, who regard humans as mere savage slaves. It also starred Roddy McDowall and Kim Hunter as the sympathetic chimpanzees Cornelius and Zira. Such was the popularity of the "Apes" franchise that it spawned four sequels, a live-action TV series and even a cartoon.
Fox commissioned an "Apes" script in the mid-1990's by Sam Hamm (who penned the stories for Burton's "Batman" and "Batman Returns") that reportedly deviated markedly from the original film, with a race of intergalactic apes dispatching a virus to the Earth, and a group of human heroes venturing to the ape planet to send the bio-agent back.
Columbus ("Mrs. Doubtfire," "Bicentennial Man") was to direct the project and Schwarzenegger was to play an updated version of Heston's role. Later, Cameron was rumored to be unofficially attached to the project as a producer and writer.
According to Ain't It Cool News, Walker's rumored treatment is a modified version of Hamm's screenplay. In it, a civilization of apes living in the Earth's core dispatches a killer virus to the surface, and two scientists must travel to the center of the planet and stop the apes from wiping out humanity.
The Hollywood Reporter says the new "Planet of the Apes" will get the A-list treatment, with a big budget and elaborate special effects (remember the cool ape make-up from the original?). No word yet, however, whether Burton will let frequent leading man Johnny Depp utter that classic line: "Get yer stinkin' paws off me, ya damn dirty ape!"
Meanwhile, no director is working on Warner's long-awaited "Superman" update -- alternately known in its past lives as "Superman Lives" and "Superman Reborn" -- although Burton was attached to the film circa 1997-98. Other screenwriters who have worked on the film prior to Wisher include Kevin Smith ("Clerks") and Dan Gilroy ("Freejack").
CHAINSAW REVISITED: First "Star Wars," now "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."
Unapix Films, which purchased the sequel rights to the grisly horror franchise about a year ago, announced this week that it will produce a "Chainsaw" prequel, simply titled "Ed Gein."
For the uninformed, Gein was the real-life serial murderer who terrorized Wisconsin in the 1950s, kidnapping women, skinning them alive and making lampshades out of their skin. He is said to be the inspiration for "Psycho" and "Silence of the Lambs," as well as the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" (1974), which was directed by Tobe Hooper, who later made "Poltergeist."
According to the Hollywood Reporter, the new film will be directed by Martin Kunert ("Campfire Tales") and written by Kunert and Eric Manes. Kunert and Manes' other credits include "Hindenburg," a movie now in development at Fox with Jan DeBont directing, and "Dare," a TV game show now in development at MTV.
For the record, this will be the fifth movie in the "Chainsaw" series, which chronicles the exploits of a sadistic family of cannibals, led by the patriarch "Grandpa" (who, in one installment, runs a successful chili con carne business --- with human flesh as his main ingredient, of course) and his son Leatherface, a chainsaw-wielding freak. The most recent was "Return of the Texas Chainsaw Massacre" a k a "Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation" (1994) which featured Renee Zellweger and Matthew McConaughey in pre-stardom roles.
AND YET ANOTHER REMAKE: The Hollywood recycling program continues unabated, as Variety reports that Columbia Pictures has announced a remake of the 1971 thriller "See No Evil" (a k a "The Blind Terror") for a planned 2001 release. Martin Ransohoff, who produced the original version, also will oversee the remake and screenwriter Tony Jaswinski, who recently sold a spec script to New Line, will write it. In the original movie, Mia Farrow played a blind girl who moved into her aunt and uncle's English countryside home. Everyone else in the house is silently murdered, leaving the poor Farrow to be stalked and terrorized by the assailant. Columbia officials say the new version will be "modernized." Can you say "The Haunting"?
DIGITAL PLANET: Director Mike Figgis ("Leaving Las Vegas") will see his unconventional digital-video flick "Time Code 2000" premiere at an appropriately unconventional venue -- the first-ever Online Film Festival, March 22-23 in Los Angeles.
Backed by Yahoo! Internet Life magazine, the fest showcases movies that are either backed by Web-based companies or include Internet-themed plotlines.
Starring Salma Hayek, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Kyle MacLachlan and Holly Hunter, "Time Code 2000" was shot on digital video and is being billed as something of a free-spirited innovation. Figgis reportedly had four roving video cameras independently shooting four separate 93-minute stories, all four of which are shown at once on the big screen. The movie was totally improvised -- there was no script -- and totally caveman-esque -- there are no special effects, no sound dubbing, no editing and not even make-up for the actors.
Screenings for the Online Film Festival are scheduled for the Directors Guild of America headquarters in Los Angeles. The event's lineup includes six feature films -- three of which are world premieres -- and 24 shorts. The short films will be viewable in streaming video format at www.onlinefilmfestival.com .
Doug Henning, the perpetually upbeat, curly haired, mustachioed magician who made illusion a multimedia affair (on the road, on stage, on television) in the 1970s and 1980s, died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 52.
Henning had suffered from liver cancer for five months.
Henning revived the popularity of magic through the rock musical "The Magic Show" in the 1970s, which ran on Broadway for more than four years. He returned to the stage for "Merlin" and "Doug Henning's World of Magic" in the 1980s. Henning is survived by his wife, Debbie.
The hip-hop world, meanwhile, is mourning the loss of Big Punisher (a.k.a. Christopher Rios) who died Monday in New York at age 28. The 698-pound Puerto Rican-born rapper, whose double-platinum album "Capital Punishment" spawned the hit single "Still Not a Player" in 1998, was thought to have suffered a heart attack. A Westchester County, N.Y., medical examiner, said that while Rios had an enlarged heart and other health problems, the cause of death would not be determined until autopsy tests were complete. Rios is survived by wife Liza and three young children.
In other obituary notices: "Lonesome" Dave Peverett, lead singer of the British blues-rock quartet Foghat, died Monday at age 56 of complications from liver cancer; and Hercules, the grizzly bear who starred in Disney films, commercials and once wrestled with Roger Moore in the James Bond film "Octopussy." Hercules passed away Monday at age 25.
LEAPIN' LIZARDS: OK, warning to potential "Magnolia" moviegoers: If you don't want to read about a key plot point, THEN SKIP THE REST OF THIS ITEM.
Anyway ... those frogs that rain down on "Magnolia" at the end of the film? Well, they're widely assumed to be a biblical reference to the book of Exodus. But director Paul Thomas Anderson says the inspiration came from writer Charles Fort first, God second.
Fort was known for compiling clippings about strange, unexplained phenomena, and Anderson used his story about three men being hanged named Green, Berry and Hill in a town called Green Berry Hill to open the film. He also found the frog-shower tidbit from Fort's various accounts.
"He thought it shouldn't be explained or that there was a far better explanation. He believed in a place called Megonia, a mythical place above the firmament where stuff would go up to and hang out before dropping back down to Earth. 'Magnolia' is a little tribute to that," the 30-year-old director says in Daily Variety. "And it sounds funny, but he believed that you can judge a society by the health of its frogs. That doesn't seem too crazy to me because our frogs are getting all deformed and dying."
EXPECTING: "Spin City's" Michael Boatman, who plays Carter, the deadpan-funny gay special assistant on minority affairs, is about to be a father again, according to People magazine. Boatman, 35, and wife Myra are expecting their second child, due in July. The baby will join sister Jordan, 3 ... ...
"Baywatch's" Brooke Burns, 21, is expecting her first child with husband Julian McMahon of NBC's "Profiler." The two were married Dec. 22.
IN COURT: Looks like "Veronica's Closet" co-star Wallace Langham will have to face hate-crime charges after all. A Los Angeles judge refused Monday to drop the case, in which Langham was accused of beating a gay tabloid reporter during a supermarket altercation. Despite a civil settlement between the actor and the journalist, the judge says the case must go forward because it was "a fairly brutal attack" and because Langham, 34, allegedly used slurs against the victim. ...
... Rapper-entrepreneur Sean "Puffy" Combs pleaded not guilty Monday to charges he was in possession of two illegal guns after a Manhattan nightclub shooting Dec. 27 that injured three people. Combs was indicted Jan. 13 with criminal possession of a weapon. Combs and girlfriend Jennifer Lopez were taken into custody after they allegedly fled the scene of the shooting in the rapper's sport utility vehicle, but Lopez was released without charges after questioning ...
... And we're happy to report that John Tesh has won back his name. Celebsites.com has agreed to return the cybername Johntesh.com to the ex-"Entertainment Tonight" host after the TV personality-musician filed suit in federal court.
LAUDED: The Publicist Guild of America has announced its nominations for the Maxwell Weinberg Publicists Showmanship Awards, honoring PR types.
In the film categories, the nominees are the publicists for "American Beauty," "The Matrix," "Stuart Little," The Talented Mr. Ripley and "Toy Story 2"; the television nominees are "Annie," "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Judging Amy," "Law & Order," "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and "The West Wing.". The awards will be handed out March 22 at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills, Calif. ...
... Tom Sherak, chairman of 20th Century Fox's Domestic Film Group and senior VP of Fox Filmed Entertainment, will receive the Sherrill Corwin Humanitarian Award at ShoWest for his involvement with numerous charities. The National Association of Theater Owners will give Sherak the honor, which has not been awarded since 1994, during its convention March 6-9 in Las Vegas.
QUICK TAKES: Two-time Oscar-winner Dustin Hoffman will pull the early-morning shift to help announce the nominations for the 72nd Annual Academy Awards bright and early Feb. 15. He'll be joined by Academy President Robert Rehme. ...
... Jude Law ("The Talented Mr. Ripley") has joined the presenting team for Oscar night March 26 at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium. ...
... Elizabeth Taylor is scheduled to hold an online chat session on AOL Live from 9-9:30 p.m. EST on Wednesday as a kickoff to Valentine's Day. Ironically, Dame Liz will be advising men on romantic gifts and other gestures. Tip No. 1: If your lady can't remember if your present was better than that of hubby No. 4 or No. 7, it's a very bad sign.
Yabba Dabba Doo? Or, Yabba Dabba Don't?
That's the dilemma facing moviegoers this weekend, as they try to choose among "The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas" and two other big new releases, "Frequency" and "Where the Heart Is."
Though lacking the star power of its 1994 predecessor, "The Flintstones" (which featured John Goodman, Rosie O'Donnell, Elizabeth Taylor and Halle Berry), the prehistoric flick is the only new film aimed at kids (the other two are about dead parents and teen pregnancy, respectively), which might give it a brontosaurus-burger-sized advantage at the box office.
Here's a look at this weekend's new releases:
"Viva Rock Vegas" THE FLINTSTONES IN VIVA ROCK VEGAS (See the trailer) The skinny: This prequel to "The Flintstones" follows young Fred and Wilma and Barney and Betty to Rock Vegas (Get it? Get it?) for a joint wedding. As they say, hijinx ensue. The upside: The movie reveals (or, more likely, makes up) lots of new Flintstone trivia, such as Wilma's maiden name (Slaghoople). The downside: The biggest name in the cast is (dramatic pause): Joan Collins! "Frequency"
FREQUENCY (See the trailer) The skinny: Dennis Quaid plays a dead dad who communicates with his grown son (James Caviezel) from the afterlife via an old ham-radio set. Says Paul Dergarabedian of the box-office tracking firm Exhibitor Relations: "It may be a film that builds momentum over the coming weeks, as people tell their friends about it." The upside: It's got it all: Immortality, mystery, action, suspense and family values. The downside: Ham radios in heaven? You'd think they'd have cell phones by now.
WHERE THE HEART IS The skinny: Pregnant teen Natalie Portman gets dumped at an Oklahoma Wal-Mart by her boyfriend. The locals (including Ashley Judd) take her in. The upside: Yet another entry in the recent string of "troubled daughter/weird mother" chick flicks, minus the weird mother part. The downside: Natalie Portman's not supposed to get pregnant until the next "Star Wars" movie, when she does it with Darth Vader and gives birth to Luke Skywalker. The new entries will contend with the reigning No. 1 film, "U-571," and with several other recent box-office champs such as "Rules of Engagement" and "Erin Brockovich," all of which can be expected to remain in Top 10 contention.
"U-571 is still benefiting from good word-of-mouth, so I suspect it won't drop very much," says Dergarabedian. "It's likely to make another $13 or $14 million, so any of these openers are going to have to make more than that, in order to contend for the No. 1 spot."
However, all bets are off next weekend, when the big-budget, big-hyped "Gladiator" opens.