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A young inductee into the military is given the task of looking after some chimpanzees used in the mysterious "Project X". Getting to know the chimps fairly well, he begins to suspect there is more to the secret project than he is being told.
For more about Project X and the Project X Blu-ray release, see Project X Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on February 7, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Helen Hunt, William Sadler, Dick Miller
Director: Jonathan Kaplan
» See full cast & crew
Project X Blu-ray Review
Animal cruelty or saving lives?
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, February 7, 2012
How many do we have to kill?
They say war is hell, but what do they say about simulating war? Tactics and trends, testing new gear, devising new strategies, pushing equipment to the limit, physically and emotionally preparing men for battle in the relative safety of the military compound, and training them for any situation or terrain are all necessary steps in the creation and retention of a strong military structure, but where must the line be drawn? Certainly nobody would stand for human beings being used as living targets or test subjects for radiation tolerance, lethal or otherwise. But where man may not be used, can animals be placed in his stead? 1987's Project X is one such story of chimps -- creatures accepted as the closest thing to humans in the animal kingdom -- used as military test subjects, trained in flight simulation and, when prepared for the task, irradiated to study the equivalent endurance of a human pilot to carry out his or her mission in the wake of exposure to a nuclear blast. The movie plays as more cute and cuddly that it does dramatically serious, with the obligatory "awwww..." moments overwhelming the themes and thought-provoking tale of animals unwittingly led to their demise, though certainly not for zero purpose. It should come as no surprise as to which side the film champions, so is Director Jonathan Kaplan's (Unlawful Entry) picture worth the effort for a known outcome?
Teri (Helen Hunt) is a university researcher who specializes in human-animal relationships. Her star pupil is a chimp named Virgil (Willie the Chimp) that shows great promise and, over the course of a year, develops an understanding of sign language and, therefore, is able to communicate with his human friend, including sharing with her his longing to fly. Unfortunately, Teri's grant is not renewed, despite the great progress she's made with Virgil. She's told he's to be delivered to a zoo in Houston to live out the rest of his life in peace and security, but Virgil is actually transported to a secret military training facility. There, he and other chimps are taught the art of flight simulation. Once they've mastered the controls, they are exposed to a lethal dose of radiation while "in flight" in an effort to theorize man's ability to withstand the effects of a nuclear blast and complete a retaliatory strike before dying. Enter Jimmy Garrett (Matthew Broderick), a disgraced aviator who is demoted to chimp duty. One day, he accidentally discovers Virgil's ability to communicate via sign language. He also learns of the Air Force's end goal for the chimps. As his relationship with Virgil blossoms, he must choose if he will allow the chimp to die like the others or if he will lead a revolt to save innocent animal lives.
Project X plays with a steady heartbeat as it maneuvers through the motions and paints its story with broad strokes and by numbers. The picture means well, but it plays with a readily-evident hollowness that sacrifices message in favor of procedure, real heart in favor of manufactured emotions that rely on the cuteness of the chimp characters more so than their plight in the flight simulation program. Matthew Broderick, too, gives little life to his character, but then again neither does his script. He seems hopelessly outgunned because of, yes, the same problem that plagues the entire production, a reliance on "cute and cuddly" rather than "meaty and dramatic." Helen Hunt's character is little more than a prop to absorb that "cute and cuddly" routine, particularly early on. Nevertheless, those early moments seeing her with Virgil are probably the film's best; they're gentle and touching, and the film does a marvelous job of painting Virgil as something more than a creature, but still less than a man, something worth saving rather than something worth sacrificing.
That notion of "saving versus sacrificing" leads to the film's primary conflict. Project X does drift towards meaningful drama in brief spurts and in those rare instances where the dialogue and the action manage to overtake the on-screen presence of the chimps. Its arc certainly has potential, but it never quite reaches that necessary level of critical, timely importance to resonate. In essence, the core of the movie seems to ask something along these lines: "at what point does an animal become something more than an animal?" and "how far will one man go to stand for his principles and protect innocent lives, human or otherwise?" The story's quandary stems from Virgil's ability to communicate; does an elementary understanding of sign language make him something greater than his fellow chimps? Is it only the ability to communicate beyond basic animalistic gestures, looks, and vocalizations that separate a creature from its peers? Are only animals like Virgil worth saving, or should all animals be free of man's bidding, harmful to their existence or otherwise? Project X never truly answers or even deeply explores those questions, largely ignoring them in favor of championing the moment, a singular cause rather than a greater one. This is the movie's largest downfall; it plays things safe and manipulates it audience to rally around its cause without really ever defining that cause beyond what is probably best described as an outlier rather than something representative of a larger sample.
Project X Blu-ray, Video Quality
Project X makes its Blu-ray debut with a steady and unassuming 1080p, 1.85:1-framed image. Anchor Bay's transfer is, generally, technically proficient; pops, a few scratches, and a handful of stray vertical lines appear, but are the extent of print damage. A fine-to-moderate layer of grain remains, though the film looks a bit pasty and flat. Fine detail never excels, but largely never disappoints, either. Facial textures appear rather flat, as do building fašades, grasses, and the equipment in the flight simulation and chimp housing areas, but clothing textures, chimp fur, and other assorted elements look fine. Colors are steady, a touch dull and washed out, maybe, certainly never striking, but never totally flat. Flesh tones appear neutral, and black levels are stable, if not home to a bit of noise. This is a fairly routine, low-effort catalogue transfer, but the end result isn't too shabby.
Project X Blu-ray, Audio Quality
This Blu-ray release of Project X features a steady Dolby TrueHD 5.1 lossless soundtrack. Music presentation is fair, delivering adequately clear notes, a rather strong and balanced low end, and a sufficient sense of space, including a noticeable but not overwhelming surround support element. The exception is the pop song that plays over the opening titles; it emphasizes the surround channels to the point that the fronts are lost and both vocals and music emanating from the back end of the stage dominate the presentation. Nevertheless, such is only an issue in that isolated incident. The rest of the track enjoys natural balance that keeps primary elements up front and support and ambience in the back. A few directional effects are implemented to good, seamless effect. The chimp housing area comes alive with screeching chimps in several scenes, playing with suitable clarity and immersion. Minor ambience is nicely handled, and dialogue remains clear and focused in the center channel. All told, this is a good track, particularly considering it supports a rather generic low-to-mid-profile catalogue release.
Project X Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Project X contains four supplemental features.
Project X Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Project X is largely representative of a feel-good 1980s movie. It's very superficial and accommodating to all audiences. The material is simple and made to appeal to its audiences' core tenderness and good nature. That's all well and good, but the movie's failure to more deeply explore animal rights, animal intelligence, and man's dominance over the animal kingdom outside of a vacuum designed to pull at the heartstrings rather than ask tough questions all make for good, light filmmaking, but the end product is hardly useful in the service of any other purpose. Still, the movie is well made and certainly not a chore to watch; it just could have been so much more without too much additional effort. Anchor Bay's Blu-ray release of Project X features decent video and audio to go along with a few extras. This disc is definitely worth a rental, and diehard fans should feel comfortable with a purchase.
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