Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Project X (1987)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

WARNING:  I’m going to give away major details about the movie.  If you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to find out the big plot twist, this isn’t the review for you.

Project X is one of those movies I saw a long time ago.  The movie was released in 1987, when I was only 11 years old.  I remembered that it was about chimpanzees being used as test pilots and the moral objections that come with that, but that was about it.  I finally got around to renting it from NetFlix.

The movie opens with Teri training a chimpanzee named Virgil to sign.  When her project loses funding, Teri is told that Virgil will be sent to a nice zoo to live out his days.  By “nice zoo”, of course, they mean a Military research facility.  Around the same time, Jimmy Garrett gets himself in trouble and is reassigned to the said Military project.  Being that it’s one of those need-to-know projects and Garrett doesn’t really need to know that much; all he’s told is that he’s to help chimpanzees learn to use flight simulators.   Every so often, he sees one leave, but they don’t come back.

Garrett does well enough that he’s let in on a little more information about the project.  Here’s the big twist:  It turns out that the chimpanzees are being experimented on.  Each chimpanzee is eventually  put in a flight simulator.  After a few minutes, he or she is hit with a lethal blast of radiation.  The point is to see how long a pilot could last if he’s hit by radiation.

Garrett has concerns about this.  First off, is it ethical to expose a living being to lethal doses of anything without their knowledge or consent?  Also, pilots will react differently to being exposed to radiation, especially depending on whether or not they know what’s happened to them.

The script was very well written.  Garrett finds himself in a situation where he should have known, but couldn’t really ask questions.  There’s also some moral ambiguity, even though you will probably find yourself clearly on one side or the other.

There is the issue of consent, given that Virgil signs and the other chimpanzees could be trained to do the same.  They do have intelligence and are very closely related to humans genetically.  Is it fair to send them in to a lethal situation not knowing what they’re doing or what the benefit is?  There’s a reason that humans weren’t used.

Don’t come in to this expecting a comedy or a family movie.  It’s not.  This is not Ferris Bueller’s Day off.  If you haven’t seen this movie and don’t know what’s coming, it will definitely blindside you, even though you know that something big is coming.  (This is also an issue for Garrett, as he should have seen it, himself.)

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t watch it.  It does bring up the issue of animal cruelty and the effectiveness of doing research on them.  Even though they’re so close, they don’t always react the same way as humans.  It was a very good movie and portrayed the chimpanzees sympathetically, which I suppose is the point of the movie.

I’d hold off on letting children watch it.  I don’t think many younger children would fully understand what was going on.  There are also some violent scenes towards the end, which might frighten some children.  It would be safe for teenagers on up. 

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