8/05/2014

Phenomena (1985) - Inga (Tanga)
Do you love monkeys? Who doesn't? Unfortunately, when they get on a movie set horrible things can happen. Find out about all the times monkeys have been used in science fiction movies with disastrous results.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes opened a few weeks back and is a blockbuster hit. Like the previous film, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, all the apes are CGI. No live primates were used throughout both films. The motion capture technology film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

For Rise of the Planet of the Apes director Rupert Wyatt said there would be no real apes during filming and Weta Digital created lifelike digital apes. The move won Wyatt a PETA Proggy Award. He said it wasn't about winning awards but practicality. "There was no way that we could ever physically achieve that because we’re talking about chimpanzees as we know them." Wyatt said.

For better or for worse, there have been primates in movies for decades. Here are the worst.

1. The Bitey Chim-Chim on Speed Racer

In the Japanese Manga cartoon, Speed Racer's brother Spritle (Paulie Litt) has a pet chimp named Chim-Chim. When the Wachowskis developed the live action Speed Racer movie they decided to use a live chimpanzee. They hired two chimps, Kenzy and Willie, that took turns playing the pet Chim-Chim. It was a brilliant idea, till it went horribly wrong. Early into production, the stand-in for Paulie Litt and one of the chimps were filming a scene. Suddenly, and without warning, the chimpanzee bit the boy's arm. It left a bruise but, thankfully, didn't break the skin. The chimp was "given a long rest period." The boy was fine, but the studio was baffled. There was no sign of aggression and the animal wasn't provoked. It just sat down next to him and bit him. After that, the kid and the chimpanzees were filmed against a green screen so they weren't on set together.

2. The Pooping Monkey on Gremlins

For the movie Gremlins, the special effects crew thought it would be impossible to do the life size Mogwai as a puppet. They thought about using stop motion for the creatures, but knew it would push the filming schedule. Director Joe Dante suggested using monkeys in Gremlin suits. So, they tested using it. "We actually did get a monkey and put a head on him and watched him careen around the editing room, pooping on everything in terror." Joe Dante remembered, "We decided it wasn't really going to work out."

3. Bob Barker Attacks Project X

Sometimes the trouble happens off the set. Project X is a 1987 movie about Teri MacDonald (Helen Hunt) who trains a chimpanzee, named Virgil (played by Willie and Harry), to use American Sign Language. Her prjoect loses funding and Virgil is sent to a government facility where she and Jimmy Garrett (Matthew Broderick) discover the apes are being used for deadly animal testing. It's a heart-warming story about the animal abuse for the sake of science.

Unfortunately former game show host Bob Barker and the United Activists for Animal Rights thought the movie makers were the abusers. Barker has been a tireless defender of animal rights for years and he heard rumors the chimps in the film had been beaten with blackjacks and clubs. He said a cattle prod and a gun were seen on the set, along with a giant snake Barker believed was used to frighten the chimps. The L.A. Department of Animal Regulation launched an inquiry against the six animal trainers, but the applicable statute of limitations on the case had run out, so the district attorney didn't file charges. So, Barker took out ads in the paper about the claims and showed photos they claimed proved the animals were being abused. "I would like to see all animals out of entertainment," Barker said. "But of course that's not going to happen. So we must provide the protection for these poor creatures that are exploited for man's diversion." The American Humane Association, an organization that monitors the treatment of animals in show business, weren't impressed by his stand and filed a $10 million suit for libel, slander and invasion of privacy. They said the "abuse photos" were batons and plastic paddles used for reprimands and the snake was used "to elicit a certain expression on the face of the chimp." AHA director Betty Denny Smith said, "Bob Barker has said so many defamatory and distorted things about us—unless you do something, people start believing it's true." Actress and animal rights activist Gretchen Wyler says, "The AHA is trying very hard. They've instituted a 24-hour animal cruelty hotline, for instance. I've been devastated by what Bob Barker has done to them." And Julian Sylvester, a trainer on Project X, calls the AHA "excellent people. They protect us from these wackos—we're talking extreme fanatics here."

4. The Unfriendly Chimpanzee on Phenomena (1985)
The 1985 Italian horror film Phenomena (or Creepers in the U.S.) was directed by Dario Argento and starred Jennifer Connelly, Daria Nicolodi, and Donald Pleasence. Jennifer Corvino (Jennifer Connelly) discovers she has a psychic connection with insects and uses it to solve a series of grisly murders. In the movie, forensic entomologist John McGregor (Donald Pleasence) has a chimpanzee attendant named Inga (Tanga) who befriends her and, eventually, saves her life. In real life Tanga hated the actress. Connelly said that, during one scene, the chimp wouldn’t stop turning around and the director asked her to put her hand on the ape. The chimpanzee didn't like it, got angry and bit her. They never really got along after that.

5. The Monkey Jedi Master in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back

Back when George Lucas was making Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) he wanted a two-foot tall Jedi master named Yoda.  But they couldn’t figure out how to do it. They figured no one would believe an animatronic creature. Who would fall in love with a puppet? So, they got a trained monkey gave it a cane and put a mask on him. Unfortunately, the little guy thought it was a fun game and kept pulling the old man mask off. One of the people who worked with the baby monkeys on 2001: A Space Odyssey said, "Look, the monkey's just going to pull off the mask over and over again. It's never going to work." They dropped the idea, hired Frank Oz and created the most beloved character in the Star Wars movies.

What do you think about monkeys in science fiction movies?

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9 comments:

Pat Dilloway said...

Chimps are notorious for suddenly going bananas--bad pun intended. Which is why they really don't make very good pets, especially when they get older and stronger. Have to shake my head at the chimp dumb enough to bite Jennifer Connelly. No accounting for taste I guess.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I remember the stink Barker threw about Project X. Think it would've been a really bad idea to use chimps as gremlins, so glad that one never panned out. They are still wild animals and unpredictable.

DAVID WALSTON said...

I never knew that about Gremlins, but I still haven't stopped laughing about it!

Tony Laplume said...

Monkeys don't like masks???

Maurice Mitchell said...

No accounting for taste Pat? Another pun? ;)

Maurice Mitchell said...

Who knew right!

Maurice Mitchell said...

It's a hilarious story David!

Maurice Mitchell said...

Very unpredictable

Pat Dilloway said...

I know, I was on fire this morning!

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