The latest Planet of the Apes film underlines the idea that we shouldn’t mess with nature. Is it a lesson we should be heeding?
The Planet of the Apes movies, which present a dystopian look at a world in which man and super primates go head-to-head, are not documentaries. But they could be, if some scientists’ fears are realised.
In another example of life imitating art, modern advancements in science, technology and genetic engineering have raised the very real prospect of man creating – either intentionally or not – a superior breed of animal species able to equal or even surpass human capabilities.
Thomas Baldwin, a professor who in 2011 conducted a study for the Academy of Medical Sciences on the potential dangers of humanising animals, outlines his concerns.
“The fear is that if you start putting very large numbers of human brain cells into the brains of primates, suddenly you might transform the primate into something that has some of the capacities that we regard as distinctly human,” he warned.
“These possibilities, that are at the moment largely explored in fiction, we need to start thinking about now.”
Historically, mankind has always been intrigued by the concept of human-animal hybrid and animal intelligence, not just in science, but also in art and literature.
The 1968 original Planet of the Apes movie, inspired by a novel by Pierre Boulle, explored the idea of highly intelligent apes overtaking humans as the more superior species.
Now, the franchise’s new instalment, War for the Planet of the Apes, showing this week across UAE cinemas, is once again challenging our preconceptions about the limits of the animal world.
In the film, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his tribe of genetically enhanced apes continue their war against humans. As casualties mount, Caesar succumbs to his darker instincts to avenge his kind. The battle that ensues will decide the fate and future of mankind and ape species.
In the past, the premise of animals having dominion over mankind might have sounded laughable, even ridiculous. But today, the thought is perhaps not as far-fetched.
Director Matt Reeves said that the franchise’s modern take “had a lot to do with how far we’d pushed things in science”.
For instance, in 2003 Chinese scientists successfully fused human cells with rabbit eggs, while a 2015 report detailed how US scientists developed a method to grow human organs in animals by injecting human stem cells into an animal embryo.
The mentioned studies and other similar examples have raised concerns about the safety and ethics of such experiments, which some say could literally become living nightmares if wrongly executed.
“If we brush ethical considerations aside and allow a modern Frankenstein to try anything he or she pleases to do, there would be mostly dysfunctional outcomes,” warned Professor Volker Sommer, evolutionary anthropologist and ape expert from University College London. Dr Lauren Brent, a primate expert and lecturer in Animal Behaviour at the University of Exeter hopes that films such as Planet of the Apes are taken less as a literal warning about rampaging super primates, and more as a call to respect nature in general.
“The fact that they are like us, but slightly different, really hits home the message that they have just as much claim to the environment as we do,” she said.
“And of course, the extension of this message is that this is the same for all species, be they plant, or bird, or insect, or primate.”
Directed by: Matt Reeves
Also starring: Steve Zahn, Woody Harrelson and Amiah Miller
Running time: 140 mins