The James Clayton Column: Rise of the Apes and the idiot human scientists

James looks ahead to Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, and wonders if scientists should be stopped...

Somewhere in Maryland there’s a secret laboratory where the world’s top scientists study and examine the planet’s most intelligent primates. Captured by Special Agent George of the Jungle, the apes are kept under lock and key by the American government and are put through an extensive programme of drug experiments, intellectual aptitude tests and advanced schooling.

The initiative intends to uncover the most exceptionally bright of hominoids and utilise their talents for the good of the USA. The primate-primer exam that every ape inductee must sit consists of several rounds of rudimentary arithmetic and logic puzzles, a game of pin the tail on Shrek’s Donkey and a geography assessment, where candidates are asked to locate Iran on a map.

The final, hardest challenge evaluates the primates’ linguistic skills. They’re asked to recite a Christopher Walken monologue and articulate the names of the clunkiest movie titles of all time, a list that includes Dr Strangelove: Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Of Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan and The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford.

Elite apes passing with distinction graduate to a role within the Pentagon. Strong candidates that don’t make the cut are sent to Jerry Bruckheimer to work as typing monkeys. Failing dropouts are either despatched to join the Sylvester Stallone stunt squad or turned into wigs for Nicolas Cage’s next role.

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In short, there are highly intelligent apes out there and they’re in high places where, with a few swift actions, they could bring about the end of modern civilisation. All they have to do is impress the scientists and get their teeth around some clumsy terminology and they could access the kind of privileges that should only be conferred on special, trusted experts with a head for ethics.

Fellow evolved creatures, I fear that evil-hearted apes are monkeying around the corridors of power and preparing to unleash an assault on humanity from which the Earth will not recover, especially now that Charlton Heston is dead.

I’m glad that Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes has leapt up, with its clunky title and primate revolution concept, to remind cinemagoers of the imminent peril. We should consider ourselves lucky that Hollywood stays vigilant and continues to produce crucial blockbuster PSAs to wake us from complacency. With terrorism, environmental disaster and various alien invasions sapping up all my anxious focus, I’d completely forgotten about the ape threat. The reboot’s arrival is, thus, definitely welcome.

Really, cinema is the mirror reflecting ugly truth back at humanity that reveals the killer sneaking up behind us while our backs are turned, out of sight, where our eyes don’t wander (unless you can pull some Mr Potato Head-style stunts).

And what apocalyptic threat does the mirror expose and urge us to imminently acknowledge? The Matrix and The Terminator series show the rise of the machines, while alien invasion flicks like The War Of The Worlds and The Thing reckon Earth’s demise will be brought on by extraterrestrials. Wall•E and Silent Running, conversely, suggest that our own garbage is going to be our residential planet’s ruin and resultantly send us into outer space exile.

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes follows the righteous movie tradition, pointing out that the downfall will probably come as a consequence of our own silly ideas and actions. The superior human brain has ensured the species remains dominant and exceptional on Earth, but it isn’t always for the best.

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Humans get cocky with their brainpower, and, with hubris, overlook the fact that their minds make errors and have the capacity to be incredibly dumb. People proudly embrace ignorant, ill-conceived ideas and run with them like dogs chasing cars down roads that only lead over the edge of a cliff. Without a parachute, everyone ends up in fatal freefall, all because some influential imbecile had an idiotic notion and arrogantly ushered everyone down a path of self-destruction.

Because it’s their job to be clever and because their mistakes provide the most cinematic material, scientists are the film world’s most popular ‘influential imbecile’ target. Movie history is full of fools creating stupid inventions (renegade robots, nuclear weapons, Flubber, etc.), performing twisted experiments or despicably dabbling with nature. It’s not long before monster arachnids are rampaging through Arizona and people are morphing into giant insects. And that’s only in 50s B features Tarantula and The Fly, as two off-the-claw examples. The list of dreadful and/or deranged movie doctors and professors runs on and on.

They’re not always maniacal, mad scientists in the vein of Frankenstein or The Invisible Man, though, and they don’t always have selfish aims. Sometimes good intentions have grave consequences, and this is true in science fiction, where noble, yet arrogant experts inadvertently bring about disaster as a result of their actions.

I’m pretty sure that the medical pro played by Emma Thompson in the prologue of I Am Legend genuinely wanted to cure cancer. Emma Thompson would never intentionally unleash deadly viruses that infect the entire world except Will Smith (the immune Fresh Prince). Nevertheless, that’s what happens, as humankind’s most intelligent attempt to achieve godlike mastery over mortality and conceitedly boast about it on TV afterwards.

Similarly, in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, attempts to eradicate disease prompt earth shattering catastrophe. Driven by his father’s terminal illness, Will Rodman (James Franco) wants to cure Alzheimer’s, which is a noble ambition. Whether incarcerating poor Caesar the chimpanzee for significant genetic modification is an ethical way to achieve it, though, is suspect. What about the morality of animal testing and manipulating nature? Do you not think that dressing a chimp in sweatshirts is just plain wrong?

The implicit ideological suggestion of many sci-fi flicks is that humans should conservatively not seek scientific progress or ‘play God’. That’s a bit too reactionary and regressive for my liking, so I’d simply urge that ambitious scientists keep ethics in mind and are wary that ideas can have huge consequences. (Because ‘seemed like a good idea at the time’ will not make it all okay at the end of the world.)

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I don’t expect the ape uprising to manifest itself in the manner of Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes. In truth, the intelligent apes in the Pentagon with access to the warheads pose the biggest threat. The primate revolution will look more like a mix of Dr Strangelove and Donkey Kong. Trust me. I’m not a scientist.

James’ previous column can be found here.

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