According to The Hollywood Reporter, John Lithgow and Freida Pinto have been added to the cast for Rupert Wyatt’s Rise of the Apes, the prequel to the Planet of the Apes franchise which already boasts James Franco as its leading man.

Preliminary plot details are slightly surprising, considering the ominous implications of the title. The narrative will focus upon a scientist (played by Franco) who develops a cure for Alzheimers which is being tested on a primate test subject called Caesar. Naturally, the cure has unexpected results on the chimp, causing him to evolve rapidly, and the scientist takes him home to live with him and protects him from cruel doctors. I cant shake the feeling that its all a bit reminiscent of Mighty Joe Young or that part in Congo dealing with Amy the gorilla who can talk using sign-language.

Lithgow has been cast as Franco’s Alzheimers suffering father, who no doubt will be offered as one part of the emotional heart of the film.

Pinto, meanwhile will play the film’s female lead- a primatologist- opposite Francos scientist. What money on there being a blossoming love story written into the plot to take advantage of their beautiful leads.

The casting of Pinto seems like good work. She is certainly a hot property, with upcoming projects including Woody Allen’s You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger which I was lucky enough to see at Cannes and yet another Greek God fantasy in the shape of Tarsem Singh’s Immortals, and she is impossibly good to look at on-screen.

Lithgow, on the other hand, remains something of an oddity: his career has been littered with some excellent moments- most notably for Brian De Palma’s wonderfully strange Raising Cain- but it has also featured some projects far more suited to a career TV-movie actor. That said, his diversity is impressive, with that psychopathic turn for De Palma, and a rumoured consideration for Hannibal Lecter going hand in hand with his work on Third Rock From The Sun and Shrek. Lately, of course he is riding the crest of a wave created by his Golden Globe winning performance as serial killer Arthur Mitchell on the excellent Dexter.

It will certainly be interesting to see how Lithgow deals with the demands of the role for Rise of the Apes, considering he is usually at his best when either foaming at the mouth as a villain, or playing a slightly bumbling everyman as in Bigfoot and the Hendersons and Third Rock… At least we will get to see whether his acting skills include understatement and the ability to pull heart-strings.

Personally, I dont really want a humanist/cautionary origin story for the rise of the apes- the franchise is a sci-fi masterpiece (well at least two of the films are), and something more spectacular would surely have been more appropriate to the original spirit. If there really has to be an origin movie, I want to see the struggle for power between human and monkey, capped by a huge set-piece war. But then maybe that will follow, if Wyatt’s more low-key offering does good business.

 There is also very much a sense that an origin story robs the original story- based on Pierre Boulle’s novel- of a certain mystique that is necessary for the grand reveal at the end. Obviously, movie fans are expected to have seen the original film (or at least Tim Burton’s reminagining) but what of the new fans who will come into Rise of the Apes as an entry level and then want to watch the other franchise offerings?  They will already know that the Planet of the Apes is in fact Earth, and one of the greatest endings of modern cinematic history will be rendered entirely limp in retrospect.