Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Peer reviewed research could have saved us from the Rise of the Apes

by Salman Hameed

Saw The Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It sucks! No need to waste time on this crap.

The premise of the original book (and the original movie) is awesome. One can address some really interesting ethical and moral issues with the topic. Can we keep fellow apes in cages or zoos? How do we balance out the benefit of medical research on our closest cousins? And of course a broader range of moral and ethical issues regarding animals in general. The original Planet of the Apes played on our fears of a nuclear war, and that was quite appropriate for the time. The new film tries to bring in issues of medical benefits and the treatment of apes. Unfortunately, the screenplay is stupid and there is no effort to breath life into any of the characters.

Spoilers ahead (but really, nothing is really surprising or earth shattering):
Worst is the idiotic portrayal of science and scientists. The drug company, of course, is the real evil (oh and sooo evil they are). Scientists are just dumb and playing into the hands of the company. But there is one unintentional good thing from the movie: The happenings in the film make a strong case for adhering to a peer-review system, replication of results, as well as seeking permission from an Institutional Review Board (IRB) for experiments on humans and animals. If the scientists in the movie were mimicking anything close to science in practice, then we would not have any takeover of the apes - at least in this version of the film. But then the lead scientist in the film (played by James Franco who seemed to have been inspired by Keanu Reeves' wooden acting style) is not so smart and had to be told about chimp behavior (hmm...that a pet chimpanzee at home may not be a good idea) by his girlfriend.

Oh - and the movie definitely does not believe in nurture. The apes, after being bestowed with more intelligence, could immediately work out superior battle strategies and could figure out how to disable security cameras, etc. Who needs training or education? All we need is intelligence! And the humans, it seemed, tried to play even with the apes by sending only one helicopter to attack them - conveniently placing the really bad company guy on board. Yup - no one saw that helicopter going down in fire and explosions towards the end of the fight. C'mon!

Two somewhat good things in the film (and I'm trying hard to find positives here): It is actually cool to see different apes together - especially the orangutan looks great! (but why would different types of apes want to lead the rebellion together?). Second, there is an excellent use of end-credits to explain how most humans would be wiped out from the planet, and there was a subtle hint during the film that there is a human mission to Mars in progress. This is a smart way to set it up for a sequel. I just hope they get better writers for the next film.

My biggest disappointment is from the fact that the movie could have been really good with minor tweaks. For example, instead of an evil drug company, they could have had a true dilemma of a sincere effort to cure Alzheimer's (without money motivation) with the issue of experimentation on apes. Similarly, the captivity conditions could have been less horrific and could have raised issues of fundamental rights for apes and that of freedom in general.

But no. Here we have a film that appeals to the lowest common denominator. One of the apes from the film could have done a better job of writing than the buffoons who wrote the screenplay and made the film (sorry - no offense to the buffoons either). 


Benjamin Geer said...

It's great to read sci-fi film reviews written by scientists. I think you should make this a regular feature on the blog!

Salman Hameed said...

Thanks Benjamin. There are a few more posts coming up on movies: "The Tree of LIfe", "Another Earth" and an Urdu film, "Bol" which I had a chance to see in Pakistan (it s not sci-fi, but it dealt with issues of social freedom etc.).

Don said...

The book title still says it best, IMHO: Remember that, according to Hollywood, scientists are Mad, Bad, and Dangerous.

Except for in Aronofsky's The Fountain- then they're just as obsessive as any of his other lead characters.