James Franco to star in Planet of the Apes prequel

James Franco has landed the lead role in Rise of the Apes, Fox's upcoming reboot of/prequel to the Planet of the Apes franchise, according to Deadline. The actor will play a scientist whose search for a cure to Alzheimer's disease inadvertently produces advanced intelligence in an ape test subject. Franco's character thus sets in motion the chain of events that will eventually lead to an ape revolution, although how much of that we'll see onscreen is unclear at this point.

Franco is best known to SF fans as Harry Osborn in the first three Spider-Man movies (he originally tried out for Peter Parker/Spidey himself), although he got his start on Freaks and Geeks and has racked up an impressive string of roles in movies like Pineapple Express and Milk. We also think he would have made a better Anakin Skywalker than Hayden Christensen, but that's another story.

Rise of the Apes has been in development for several years and started life as a script called Caesar, loosely based around the ape messiah played by Roddy McDowall in 1972's Conquest of the Planet of the Apes. In that one, Caesar was the son of chimps Cornelius (McDowall) and Zira (Kim Hunter), who traveled back in time from our ape-dominated future. In the current version, the time-travel angle has been dropped and Caesar (if he's still called that) gets his smarts via human experimentation.

Fox's official synopsis describes the new movie as "an origin story in the truest sense of the term. Set in present day San Francisco, the film is a reality-based cautionary tale, a science fiction/science fact blend, where man's own experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy."

Production on the film starts on July 5 under the supervision of director Rupert Wyatt (The Escapist), with a release date already set for June 24, 2011. Fans have been buzzing for weeks about the recent announcement that the movie's apes will be rendered through CGI and not created with the kind of makeup appliances that have become a trademark of the six previous Apes movies. Peter Jackson's Weta Digital shop is on board to visualize the apes, who hopefully won't look like furry versions of the creatures from I Am Legend or something along those lines.

James Franco and CGI monkeys—how do you think this Apes movie will turn out?

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