A common trope in many films of a particular type is science going bad. Although this can happen because the scientist are especially evil, however, it often occurs that the scientist does something brilliantly clever, with benevolent intent, that goes horribly wrong. Coincidentally Rise of the Planet of the Apes has just been released.
In each of these films, there is a point at which the scientists realise that in crossing a line they weren’t meant to cross, they’ve done something incredibly dumb. The site tvtropes refers to this as a “Gone Horribly Wrong” Here are some examples of such hubris:
Deep Blue Sea
I have a certain fondness for this particular B-movie. A bunch of scientists discover a protein in the brains of mako sharks that can cure Alzheimer’s disease:
Their brains weren’t large enough to harvest sufficient amounts of the protein. So we violated the Harvard Compact. Jim and I used gene therapies to increase their brain mass. Larger brain means more protein. As a side effect, the sharks got smarter.
Deep Blue Sea
Utterly hilarious. The sharks are trying to escape, the humans are trying to escape, but the sharks are trying to eat the humans. Here’s a spoilerific clip.
Get these muthefucking sharks out of my mutherfucking research facility.
A bunch of scientists (you see where this is going, right?) resurrect dinosaurs from a few specks of blood. John Hammond, who clearly has more money than sense, and his company InGen isolate dinosaur DNA from blood found in a mosquito trapped in fossilised amber. They fill in the gaps with frog DNA. They prevent the dinosaurs breeding by only creating females, without realising that the DNA is from an amphibian that can change sex if there is a female/male population imbalance. Their other fail-safes also fail. FAIL. The dinosaurs are made to be lysine deficient – supposedly, if this isn’t given to them by the scientists, the dinosaurs should die – this doesn’t work either. EVERYTHING goes wrong.
John, the kind of control you’re attempting is not possible. If there’s one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it’s that life will not be contained. Life breaks free. It expands to new territories. It crashes through barriers. Painfully, maybe even.. dangerously, but and…well, there it is.
It’s a good job dinosaurs can’t use door handles because then we’d be in real trouble…
Dorky but enthusiastic scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum) is trying to develop matter transport, but he’s running low on monkeys and goodwill from his corporate backers. Plus he’s trying to impress Veronica Quaife (Geena Davis) by telling her about his research. In my experience THIS DOSE NOT WORK as a pick up technique.
While sad, alone and drunk, Brundle tries the transportation device on himself. Unbeknownst to Brundle, a housefly also enters the chamber. The experiment smushes up his DNA with the fly’s. Consequently, he develops into a half man-half fly with dissolving enzyme drool, the ability to walk up walls and massive skin grossness. He loses all his human personality traits, and truly becomes a monster.
This is why you do not drink and science at the same time.
Victor Frankenstein is the grandpappy of “Oh shit, my experiment’s gone wrong, we’re all going to die”. The Doctor has been portrayed numerous times, notably by Kenneth Brannagh in his 1994 adaptation (You may notice that’s not Ken Brannagh or Robert DeNiro pictured). During his studies in medicine, Frankenstein becomes aware of the importance of electricity or “galvanisation” in living beings. It is indeed electricity that keeps our hearts beating, muscles moving and brains thinking. Frankenstein becomes obsessed with it being the stuff of life, and begins patching people together and bringing them to life with electricity. Like all of the scientists in this list, he crosses a line that isn’t meant to be crossed; the dead should stay dead. His beautiful and wondrous creation becomes intelligent, is self-aware but is beholden to his own grotesque appearance. The world will never see him as person, and once he witnesses people’s hatred, he goes nuts and swears bloody vengeance on his creator. People die. It’s messy.
Rise of the Planet of the Apes
So, you all know that it was Earth all along, but RotPotA sets out to show how Earth became the Planet of the Apes. While testing an experimental gene therapy on a cohort of chimpanzees, a group of scientists realise that their novel treatment for Alzheimer’s disease promotes growth of new brain cells, as a side effect, the chimps got smarter. Wait, did that sound familiar to you? Will Rodman (James Franco) is desperate to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, I mean if John Lithgow was your dad, you would too. Through a convoluted series of events Will ends up taking home a baby chimp; the offspring of one of the test subject chimps. Having received the gene therapy in utero, this baby chimp, named Cesar, becomes smart. He learns well and becomes almost human, but he is also a chimpanzee with no concept of his own strength. He gets imprisoned with other apes, is mistreated, learns that he isn’t human and will never be human. A bitter, smart ape can only mean trouble, especially when joined by other bitter, smart apes…