WARNING: If you haven't seen "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" yet and still want to, you probably shouldn't read this post. Seriously, we're going to be talking about its ending. Bookmark this thing and wait till you catch up with the movie on DVD.
Among the many pleasant surprises of this summer's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," one of them has to be the way the filmmakers found a fitting ending to the relationship between Will (James Franco) and Caesar (Andy Serkis). Their journey throughout the film is a pretty emotional affair: Will loves and raises Caesar, but eventually the ape becomes too big and Will makes the mistake of turning him over to others who don't understand him, with pretty disastrous consequences. Their final goodbye -- with Caesar telling Will that he's finally home in the forest -- is just right and a logical conclusion to all that's come before. Which is why it's so surprising that it came about at the very last minute.
During an effects conference, Ted Gagliano, Fox's president of post-production, said that the ending we know only happened after an 11th hour shoot over Fourth of July weekend. (Talk about waiting till the last possible second: The movie opened August 5.) The plan, according to Gagliano, was that Franco initially was going to die at the end, but they changed their mind.
But die how? According to The Playlist, who read the "Apes" script, it was going to be a pretty dramatic moment of self-sacrifice. With the Army closing in on Caesar and getting ready to fire, Will was going to jump in front of Caesar, taking the bullet and saving his ape friend. The sequence ends with Caesar cradling the mortally wounded Will as they share a wordless look before he dies.
(By the way, we imagine this is the exact same way it's going to go down when one of The Projector editors shuffles off this mortal coil.)
What's really interesting is that this last-minute ending might explain why Fox waited until just a few days before the movie's release to screen it for critics -- as opposed to the reason that most critics assumed, which was that the film was bad and the studio was trying to hide it. The panel Gagliano was speaking at was discussing the growing trend of super-crazed post-production schedules where big tentpoles' visual effects are furiously thrown together in an incredibly short amount of time in order to hit a release date. We saw "Apes" on August 2. The sequence was shot almost exactly a month earlier, and they had to animate all of the Serkis stuff in that time. That's crazy. Even more crazy, the ending feels so perfect. What did you think of it, Grave Ape?
He's trying to put on a brave face, but that ending made him weepy, too.
Fox Exec at VES Panel: We Thought James Franco's Character Should Die in 'Apes' [The Hollywood Reporter via Movieline]
Last-Minute Reshoots Saved James Franco's Character From Death In 'Rise of the Planet of the Apes' [The Playlist]