Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Rise of the Planet of the Apes -- animal experimentation

Director: Rupert Wyatt, 2011. (PG-13) 

As the title makes clear, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is a prequel seeking to show how the apes took over planet earth. However, it does not go that far, merely showing how the apes became sentient simians. Really, it is a vehicle for Wyatt to get the major fight scenes on the Golden Gate bridge that climax the film. The rest is mostly fluff.

The story begins with Will Rodman (James Franco, 127 Hours), a scientist working on a drug to cure Alzheimer’s disease. Using chimps as test subjects, he believes his experimental drugs is ready for human trials. But when his big chance arrives to present to the company’s board of directors, his star ape goes ape and attacks, having to be shot to protect the humans. With the other chimps being put down and his lab being shut down, Will discovers a newborn chimp, the baby of his test monkey. Naming this newborn “Caesar” (played impressively in motion capture by Andy Serkis, familiar to this technology from his role of Gollum in The Lord of the Rings), he takes him home to live with him and his Alzheimer’s-ailing father Charles (John Lithgow).

The movie skips ahead in batches of years, showing Caesar gaining intelligence from being infected by the drug in the womb. Able to learn sign-language, he can communicate and advances in intellect. Along the way, Will meets primatologist Caroline (Freida Pinto, Slumdog Millionaire) and falls in love. He also tries his new experimental drug on his father and the disease is immediately reversed. Life returns to normal, at least for a while.

When Caesar attacks a neighbor, seeking to protect Charles, he is captured and moved under court order to an ape sanctuary just outside of San Francisco. Run by a corrupt official (Brian Cox) and his sadistic son Dodge (Tom Felton, Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter films), Caesar finds himself caged with other chimps, apes and orangutans. Here, he is able to move to the top of the heap, due to his intelligence, eventually to lead the revolt and the ensuing battle.

The plot is weak and shoddy, too contrived to be believable. Indeed, one scene where Will faces down the business leader of the drug company has them both effect a sudden and major turn-around from previous expressed values that is just too far-fetched to accept. And the characters themselves are undeveloped, being mostly caricatures, not drawing us in enough to really care about them. The actors don’t put much into their roles. The most enjoyable is Felton, who seems to relish the villain role.

Regardless of the quality of the movie, it does raise some interesting ethical questions. Is it morally acceptable to experiment on animals? Is this addressed in Scripture? At creation, God said to man, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” (Gen. 1:28). This dominion over the animals does not include cruelty but does not necessarily preclude experimentation if undertaken in a humane manner. Certainly, the use of animals such as chimpanzees enables scientific breakthroughs in drugs that benefit humanity. Without these we would limit our medical progress. But we need to draw the line between what is necessary and what is cruel.

Copyright©2012, Martin Baggs

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