Rampage (2018)

Rampage only has 6.3/10 on IMDb at the point of writing and I think that’s a generously fair score.

When three different animals become infected with a dangerous pathogen, a primatologist and a geneticist team up to stop them from destroying Chicago.

I just happened to walk into my living room as my father was putting this film on. I saw The Rock and a big gorilla and my instant thought was “Oh, it’s the new Jumanji” but then I noticed all the sciencey technology and realised it was very much not Jumanji. I sat down to read my book (currently Fortunes of Africa by Martin Meredith) but quickly got transfixed by how utterly ludicrous the movie is.

The general gist of it is that a genetics company fuelled by greed has an experiment go awry, causing three canisters of some primordial goop come crashing down (from space, naturally) and infect three animals. A gorilla, a wolf and a crocodile. They start growing at an unprecedented rate, getting more aggressive and growing like, spines and shit. The wolf gets flying squirrel flaps. It’s absolutely mad. It’s like those awful movies on SyFy, you know, like Croctopus and Sharknado. I’ve nothing against those films but they do seem quite aware of their general quality level. This film though, this film had a budget. It’s a good #romp but it’s ludicrous. Add into that an offensively basic explanation of CRISPR, the standard “pretty science” standard of Hollywood and a government employee who thinks he’s a bloody cowboy, and you’ve got one ridiculous movie.

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And that is nothing to speak of George the gorilla, an absolutely shoddy Hollywood example of animal intelligence. George is a silverback gorilla who bonds at an early age with Dwayne Johnson’s character. In real life, while much research has taken place to assess the linguistic capabilities of various primates, it seems pretty impossible that any gorilla could ever understand sign language to the extent that George displays in the movie. George is even implied to have a ‘dirty sense of humour’ and make rude gestures at his lifelong friend to get a funny reaction which is frankly ridiculous. I know it’s a movie, but these misconceptions about the intelligence of apes appears in real life too.

Despite all this, it’s an alright film. Wouldn’t seek it out to watch it again but it was an okay way to spend almost two hours.

RYAN’S PSYCHOLOGY DRIBS AND DRABS

Koko the gorilla unfortunately passed away recently. She was a very important cornerstone of animal research, especially in the use of language. There is no chance that she was not at least partially responsible for some of the ways the film handled George. She’s one of the most famous animals in science, up there with Schrödinger’s cat and Pavlov’s dogs. Every psych student in the country has had to learn about her when it comes time to study language development. And it’s true, there is much to be learned about the genesis of human language by studying our distant relatives. According to this BBC article about the speech capabilites of Koko, there are many species that have the components of speech similar to ours, but perhaps they do not come together in one efficient process. Koko, for example, demonstrated cognitive control over her own breathing by having a special ‘ho ho’ sound that she used for handlers that she was particularly ‘fond of’. Speech, this is not. But it’s something significant that contributes to our understanding of language.

When it comes to sign language, it seems a widely known fact that apes are capable of learning it. That is all well and good, they can observe people and copy their actions. What is important to note however is that they do not use sign language in the intended way. Apes use what we’d call functional language – which is to say they will learn and use sign language to let a handler know that they want something, or they want to do something. So no, George the silverback gorilla would not really have had the cognitive ability to say that The Rock ‘looks like shit’ at the end of Rampage. Sorry to disappoint. It is likely that gorillas learn the signs for requesting language through observation and are then have the usage of those signs positively reinforced when they happen to copy those signs and have those requests sated.

Further, extremely interesting reading.


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