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James Franco and those damn dirty “Apes.”

James Franco and those damn dirty “Apes.” (photo)

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Variety is reporting that James Franco has been cast in a prequel to “Planet of the Apes” entitled “Rise of the Apes.” He’ll play a “young, driven scientist who becomes a crucial figure” in a war between mankind and genetically engineered super-apes. If he’s very lucky, he may even yell “You maniacs!” while wearing a loincloth. The film goes into production in July for a June 2011 release.

Though the project is being billed as a prequel, it’s also something of a remake. The original “Planet of the Apes” series bore its own prequels — three of them, in fact, necessitated by the fact that Charlton Heston only agreed to return for the first “Apes” sequel on the condition that he got to SPOILER ALERT! nuke the entire world in order to ensure he wouldn’t get asked to do any more damn dirty ape movies. Sadly, Heston was once again outsmarted by those dastardly primates; a couple of them survived the explosion and traveled back through time to the present, which is where Fox set three more films in the series before finally retiring the franchise for a couple decades.

Of the three previous prequels, the proposed storyline for Franco’s “Apes” bears the strongest resemblance to 1972’s “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.” In it, the now-grown son of said epoch-hopping simians leads the world’s population of enslaved apes, who are kept as pets after a space virus kills every dog and cat on the planet — Damn you all to hell, space virus! — in an armed revolution against humanity.

Headache-inducing time travel paradoxes aside, “Conquest” is actually a pretty interesting movie, far edgier than most modern Hollywood sequels (or non-sequels, for that matter). Honoring the allegory of the original “Planet of the Apes,” “Conquest” is a none-too-thinly veiled civil rights parable, with the super-intelligent Caesar (Roddy McDowall) cast as a Malcolm X-esque freedom fighter. Honoring the original “Apes”‘s mega-depressing ending, “Conquest” concludes with nothing less than the fall of humanity.

052102010_conquest2.jpgCaesar fights his captors, sets fire to the compound where he and his fellow apes were kept, and gives an impassioned monologue against oppression. “From this day forward,” Caesar declares, “my people will crouch, and conspire, and plot, and plan for the inevitable day of Man’s downfall… the day of the writing in the sky, when your cities lie buried under radioactive rubble!” Then Caesar and his ape troops beat all the surviving humans to death.

Test audiences were so (understandably) freaked out by the brutality of a movie about dudes in rubber monkey masks that Fox recut the conclusion in an attempt to soften it. The theatrical version ditched some of the mass slaughter and added a conciliatory coda to Caesar’s speech. Yeah, the world’s afire and mankind’s on the downward slope, but Caesar says he’s going to be a humane ruler. So it’s a happy ending!

As Tim Burton already proved, cooler prosthetic makeup does not a better “Apes” make. More than the (admittedly terrific) John Chambers masks, the original “Apes” movies were great because they took risks, buried all sorts of timely social commentary into their sci-fi stories and had their courage to carry out their cynical convictions to explosive extremes.

The synopsis for the new film sounds like it shares “Conquest”‘s basic outline, but it’s hard to imagine a 2011 blockbuster ending on a downer like a metaphorical race war. Casting the intrepid Franco — who’s so fearless he just announced he’s returning for a second stint on the soap opera “General Hospital” — is a good first step for “Rise of the Apes,” but if they really want to make something worthy of the series’ legacy, they better be ready to go all the way with it.

Here’s the original “Conquest” ending:

[Photos: “Conquest of the Planet of the Apes,” 20th Century Fox, 1972]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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