Thursday, February 25, 2016

The greatest danger of all is that danger never ends: Battle for the Planet of the Apes

Not the best way to end the series. But then, if it didn't end badly, it probably wouldn't ever end. Oh, wait...

Battle for the Planet of the Apes, 1973, directed by J. Lee Thompson.

We see that the gorillas are militant, the chimps are smart, and the orangutans are...there. Half a generation or so has passed since the night of fires, and ape society is doing its best. Humans are second-class, if that. They're not allowed to say "no" to an ape. The gorillas are all for exterminating what few humans there are. Things aren't going well, so MacDonald (not the black guy from Conquest, but his brother, which is weird; they even refer to the brother, but he's not in it, just like this brother was referred to in Conquest but wasn't in it) tells Caesar, who's in charge, about tapes that will allow Caesar to hear his parents talk and help him figure out how to deal with the problems in his society. Caesar, MacDonald, and an orangutan named Virgil to go to the nearest city. They do hear the tapes, and find out how bad things turn out--for both humans and apes.

But of course the mutants living under the city discover them. They follow the group and find their settlement, and decide to destroy it. They've got lots of guns and bombs, see.

Back at the settlement, the gorillas are trying to take over. Caesar's son Cornelius overhears the gorillas' plans, so the gorillas (well, the lead rabble-rouser Aldo anyway) tries to kill the kid. He only partly does the job. Then the humans attack, and the apes defeat them.

With his dying breath, Cornelius reveals that Aldo is his killer. When everyone learns that Aldo has violated the inviolable ape rule of "Ape shall never kill ape," they forsake his attempt to take over. Caesar confronts him, though it's not a fight. They just climb a tree and Aldo falls out, to his death.

There's a framing mechanism, in which the Lawgiver is telling the story of this battle. At the end, we learn that he's teaching it to a bunch of human and chimp kids. So learning about the past has, at least six hundred years in the future, allowed Caesar and those who come after him to make a different future than the one that Taylor found in the first two films. Then, we see a statue of Caesar, and for some reason it's crying.

What a horrible way to end the movie, and the series. Why in the world is that statue crying?

Anyway, the coolest thing about the movie is that John Huston plays the Lawgiver. What a great voice. As great as Ian McKellan was as Gandalf, Huston's version from the Rankin/Bass cartoons is the one I hear in my head (though I couldn't reproduce it well when I read Lord of the Rings to my son the first time).

The apes' fashion doesn't change in the thousand years or whatever it is between this movie and the future of the first film, when Taylor arrives. Neither does their English. The fact that everybody speaks English is hard to get around, and I'm willing to forget that. But that they wear exactly the same clothing, divided by species? Not so much.

There's some effort devoted to making the apes move like apes, but it's mostly confined to the way they run and facial twitching. C for effort.

I'm not crazy about the villain falling to his death. It's a cheat, a way that allows for resolution without requiring the hero to kill. 

I couldn't get into this movie. It just seemed so unnecessary to me. I see what they're going for, in establishing that Caesar steers the future away from what Taylor found, but I feel like this was maybe the least interesting way to go about it. And the proto-mutants, who worship the nuclear weapon that Taylor eventually sets off, aren't very interesting. I'm not sure what I was looking for in this movie, which I don't think I'd seen before (except in its more recent reconfiguration as Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), but this wasn't it.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

In case you were wondering exactly what kind of nerd I am...

So the other day I was listening to The Beatles's "Across the Universe." Now, the thing about me you need to understand is that I can't understand song lyrics. I mean, I never know exactly what the words are unless I read them. I usually just have to make them up if I want to sing along in my head, because I'm not one to look them up.

So, "Across the Universe" is on, and for the first time I realize that I have no idea what the chorus is. Never have. It doesn't even sound like it's in English (and it isn't, of course). I understand that "Nothing's gonna change my world" well enough, but what's that next line? You probably already know what it is--this is the Beatles, after all. You want to know what I'd thought it was, for like the last two decades?

"Shai Hulud Avon."

Yup, I thought John Lennon was singing about the sand worms from Dune.

And, yeah, I just accepted that I didn't understand the last bit. 

Turns out he was singing "Jai Guru Deva Om," a transcendental meditation mantra about dispelling darkness and enlightenment and whatnot. Apparently he learned that from some bracelets he got in India.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Now that I know they won't kill me, I don't enjoy them: Conquest of the Planet of the Apes

Roddy McDowall returns as his own ape son. Armando (Ricardo Montalban) is back, too. This film follows from the more intense ending of the last. There's little humor, lots of social commentary, even a black guy, which allows for some reflection on race.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes: 1972, directed by J. Lee Thompson.

The story starts 20 years after Escape, at which point apes have already gone from pets to slaves in the wake of the space virus that killed all the dogs and cats (no mention of the fate of pet fish, hamsters, and birds, though I presume they're dead, too). Caesar (now all grown up) is brought to town--though I don't think which city they're in is ever stated--by Armando to advertise the circus. The ape has a hard time seeing how humanity treats the apes, and when one ape is being beaten badly, Caesar yells at the police. Since he's not supposed to be able to talk, the police confront them. Caesar runs, but Armando goes to the police so as to try to avoid suspicion of Caesar being Cornelius and Zira's son. Caesar blends in with the rest of the apes, and is eventually bought by the mayor. Armando, meanwhile, dies in police custody after trying to deny that Caesar is intelligent. Caesar finds out, and his hatred for humanity increases.

Eventually, the mayor finds out that Caesar is the talking ape. He orders an execution, but his assistant MacDonald, who just happens to be black, balks at the idea--even after he learns that Caesar can talk. So MacDonald saves Caesar, who then gets out and organizes and ape revolution. They take over the city, and Caesar at first calls for ape rule and what sounds like brutality toward humanity. Then he steps back and says that they'll show mercy to the mayor and others. The city is burning.

Okay, a couple of things. First, that last scene is pretty weird. The apes have won the city, and they've got the mayor in their hands. The gorillas stand ready to execute him, and at first Caesar is going to give the order. But MacDonald tells him that this wasn't supposed to be how it was and he shouldn't be so violent. Then Caesar gives a rousing speech about taking over and ruling and making humans their servants. At the end, I expected all the gorillas to cheer, but everybody just stood there quietly for a moment. Then a few gorillas raised their weapons like they're going to kill the mayor, but the woman chimp speaks for the first time and says, "No." Caesar then tells everybody that they're going to be kinder than the humans have been to them. And the film ends.

Second, at one point MacDonald is talking to the (white) mayor about treating the apes like slaves. The mayor says, "All of us were slaves once, in one sense or another." And MacDonald doesn't so much reply--he's only the assistant, after all.

There's a lot more ape behavior in this one, since there are a lot more apes that aren't so far removed from their current evolutionary form. Except for Caesar, they can't talk yet. So there's lots of grunting and arm waving; at the beginning, Armando even has to teach Caesar to walk more like an ape, using his shoulders more, so he fits in. Yet all the apes walk more upright than their wild forebears, and they've got hands that are more like human hands. And the female chimp talks at the end. Those are huge evolutionary changes in a single generation. So, now, let's deconstruct that notion.

Conquest is set in the 1990s, at which time humans have already been far into outer space. Things are different, especially when it comes to science. They've got suspended animation, which we learned in the first Apes movie. So why not advances in evolutionary biology: let's say that, upon adopting apes as pets, and discovering just how useful they were as servants/slaves, people started modifying them. A more upright posture would free the hands for more tasks. Following that, modify the fingers and thumb for better tactile use. But don't give them speech--they still know Zira and Cornelius's tale about the end of human civilization and fear talking apes. I actually think it makes more sense for the government to be afraid of talking apes if they'd set apes down a different evolutionary path already. They're afraid of their own creation. Why not?

I liked this movie a lot. There's an extended sequence in which we see the apes preparing themselves for revolution. They do apparently simple things in protest, like keep a lighter away from the lady who utters the quotation I put in the title of this post. Or polish a guy's sock instead of his shoe. Or dump over trash and start stomping on it. And in the background of all these acts of protest, Caesar watches, nodding his approval. Caesar goes from a guy being swept up in something to an underground guerrilla leader. It's pretty cool. I liked watching his struggle with the fact that he couldn't speak or he'd give himself away.

Monday, February 15, 2016

So were your mother and father: Escape from the Planet of the Apes

The scale is smaller, the budget is smaller, yet the stakes are higher. Strangely, the escape from the planet of the apes has already been accomplished by the time the movie opens. Unless you want to see the title as somewhat more figurative, which is worth pursuing.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes: 1971, directed by Don Taylor.

The movie opens with Taylor's space ship ocean. Some military guys bring it to shore and out come Zira, Cornelius, and and ape we've never met before named Milo (he dies early on). The apes don't talk, and they're taken to a zoo infirmary where, eventually, they reveal to a veterinary psychologist (Dr. Bratton) that they are intelligent. They're brought before a committee and show the world that they can talk and whatnot. There follows some lighthearted scenes of the apes in human society, buying clothes, drinking wine, hobnobbing, and the like. But there's another scientist, a time travel expert sort of guy named Hasslein, who finds holes in their story and eventually learns that the apes rule the earth in the future and that the planet gets destroyed. Hasslein becomes convinced that the only way to save the future is to kill the apes--including Zira's unborn child. The apes are taken into custody, but they escape, killing a guy in the process. The hunt is on, and Bratton hides them in a circus run by a guy named Armando (played by Ricardo Montalban of all people). Zira has her child--born about the same time as another chimp at the circus. But for reasons I can't recall, the apes can't stay in the circus. Instead, they hide in an old shipyard. They're found, and all three are killed. Another bleak ending...or is it.

Of course not. They need more sequels. So, as was hinted earlier, Zira switched her own baby with that of the other chimp mother at the circus. Armando is fully aware of this, and it's with him and baby Milo that the movie ends. Milo proving his lineage by saying "mama."

Maybe the most interesting thing about this movie is the jarring shift from the apes romping about town with their human entourage and the murderous last act. After the previous movies, you've got to know that something bad is coming, but, man...

As with the previous movies, there's not much interrogation of the concept that an evolved ape would be appreciably different from a human being. There's no distinctly chimpanzee behavior displayed by the adult apes, though the newborns are, interestingly, played by actual apes. Apart from the scene in which one is shot four times, of course. There are a couple of vocalizations on the part of Roddy McDowell/Cornelius that veer toward simian in character, again when he's distressed, but that's it.

We get more of the future history of earth, though, which is interesting. We learn about the plague that killed all the pets and, I think, inspired the direction of the two most recent films. We learn that, though the apes speak English, they don't know it by that name.  We learn that people started keeping apes as pets, and that eventually apes gained sapience and learned to talk through close contact with humans.

There was an opportunity to critique the culture of the time, with the apes being clothed in human trappings, but it's largely not taken. This isn't that kind of movie, though I wish it would have been, at least a little. A little less plot, a little more of the ape perspective on 1970s America could have been really interesting.

Still, I liked this movie. I don't recall anything about its two sequels, though, so I'm interested to see where they go.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Green and Insignificant Planet: Beneath the Planet of the Apes

Beneath the Planet of the Apes is a pretty strange follow-up to the first film. That BBC piece I mentioned last time refers to the fact that Boulle was unable to write an acceptable sequel to the film, though it gives no explanation as to why. It's hard not to wonder what the studio wanted, how much Heston wanted to be involved, etc. Heston's only in it for what amounts to maybe three scenes (surprisingly, because he wanted nothing to do with the film).

Beneath the Planet of the Apes: 1970, directed by Ted Post

The story goes like this...Another space ship--sent to rescue Heston's character Taylor, whose comrades are never mentioned--lands on future-Earth, and its sole survivor, Brent (who looks more than a little like Taylor) runs into Nova, alone on the horse she and Taylor took at the end of the last film. We learn from a flashback that Nova and Taylor encountered some strange things as they wandered along, and Taylor vanished into a rock wall that appeared out of nowhere and then disappeared. Nova takes Brent to the ape city, where he witnesses some hawkish military rhetoric by a gorilla leader. Nova then takes Brent to Zira and Cornelius, who basically just tell them to leave before they're caught. They're caught anyway, but escape with Zira's help. The gorilla war party heads toward the forbidden zone to kill somebody...I got kind of lost as to why they felt the need to go to war against an enemy they hadn't even seen. Brent and Nova find a "human" group living underground and worshiping an atomic bomb. The humans are psychic and can create illusions and control people's minds. They throw Brent in prison with Taylor (surprise!) and force them to fight. Nova shows up and for the first time speaks--Taylor's name. This distracts the "human" forcing them to fight, and the good guys kill him. By this time the gorillas have arrived, killing the "humans" and coming to the room with the bomb. That's where Brent and Taylor are headed, too (Nova dies along the way, shot by a gorilla). So Taylor gets shot, Brent gets shot, and as he dies Taylor sets off the bomb. The film ends with somebody narrating: "In one of the countless billions of galaxies in the universe lies a medium-sized star, and one of its satellites, a green and insignificant planet, is now dead." Roll credits.

Cheerful stuff. Not what anybody expected in 1970, I'm guessing. I remember being particularly shocked when Heston got shot. It just seemed so unlikely.

Anyway, in dealing with stories, I like to pay attention to the little things, the things that could probably be removed without damaging the plot. In these things, we can look for meaning. Like Zira's nephew from the first Apes movie, who goes on and on about how grown-ups suck. In this, we've got a thematically similar scene in which a bunch of apes protest the gorilla war party, chanting for peace and freedom. The only mention of their age is made by the gorillas, who call them "young people" and force them off the road. This movie is a product of its time, of course, so we also get Zira reflecting on Dr. Zaius, who chooses to accompany the gorillas. She says of him, "He has only one motive: to keep  things as they have always been." She doesn't use the term "establishment," but she might have.

Then there's the moment at which the lack of speech on the part of Nova and her kindred becomes a moment for philosophy. Hiding out underground, confronted with the fact, as Taylor was at the end of the first film, that he's on his own planet far in the future, Brent stares at Nova as she sleeps. He wonders aloud, "Are you what we were? Before we learned to talk. Made a mess of everything. Did any goo ever come from all that talk around all those tables?" He looks around at the ruins of his own civilization as he says it. There's no further discussion of the nature, morality, and value of human speech (which is something that Marshall McLuhan described as "the flower of evil" in Understanding Media), so we've got to look elsewhere for the consequences of talk. For instance, the future humans no longer need to talk; they communicate telepathically. They seem powerful, able to create illusions and control minds, but are ultimately impotent against the apes and their guns. And we can't forget that all the talking Taylor did in the first film didn't convince the apes in charge to listen to him or grant him his freedom. It's only at the end, when he's got a rifle, that he actually accomplishes that.

The apes, of course, talk. Though it's interesting to note that when confronted by the humans' defensive illusion of ape bodies, a wall of flame, and--significantly--the appearance of a bleeding statue of the apes' Lawgiver, the apes display the only ape-like behavior in the first two films: they grunt and screen and hop around like gorillas do today. It's up to the orangutan Zaius to convince them of the illusion.

Then there's the religious factor. Brent chokes on stagnant holy water at one point. The bleeding Lawgiver statue. The crucified ape illusion. The future humans worship a bomb capable of destroying the whole planet. And the whole planet gets destroyed. We don't learn a whole lot about ape religion, despite all the references to scripture in the first film. The Lawgiver is pretty important.

Everything leads to death, and not even an important death, as that final narration reminds us: the earth and everything that happens on it, is insignificant, despite how green it is. What a great movie.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Some links

Here's a lengthy examination of Bizarro, a character that works best in short bursts.

Also, I had no idea that the comics letterer Todd Klein has a blog. He writes about what he's reading, mostly Vertigo and DC stuff but books and art, too. And he sells some prints of his own work. I'm thinking of getting either the King Arthur or the Pegasus/Bellerophon.

On a related note, here's a bunch of jokes, courtesy of Vulture.

Here's an examination of what recent Superman stories have done with the idea of Superman, courtesy of The Atlantic. This one's gotten a lot of attention lately.

And it's always nice to see an appreciation of Moore and Gibbons' "For the Man Who Has Everything."

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Beware the beast Man: Planet of the Apes '68

So HBO has all the old Planet of the Apes movies available right now. I haven't watched any of them since college, and I thought now would be a good time to go through them again. Might as well write about them here.

I have seen the newer ones as well. I'll get to them eventually, too.

My own history with this story isn't terribly long. Haven't read the comics or seen the cartoons. The only thing really worth reporting is that my mother told me long ago that the novel Planet of the Apes was the only book she ever saw her father read. My father moved from Tennessee to Michigan to work in the auto industry. He retired early to become a horse trader. I had to read Planet of the Apes immediately upon learning that he'd read it; I hope to track down a copy for a re-read soon. It's by Pierre Boulle (original title: La Planete des Singes, translated as apes but singes actually means monkeys if my high school French serves me well), who was a spy trained in science who, according to this BBC piece, wrote the end of his stories first and worked backward--sounds like an interesting guy.

The story begins: 1968's Planet of the Apes directed by Franklin J. Schaffner, written by Michael Wilson and Rod Serling.

The story starts out with Taylor (Charlton Heston) talking to himself. Good contrast with his later inability to talk after being injured. He and his crew are out in space, and while in stasis they crash on a strange planet. They trek across a desert in search of sustenance, and they meet some other humans who apparently can't talk. They do have food, though. Unfortunately, before Taylor and the others can conquer these tribal and insapient (is that word allowable? I don't want to use primitive; they're not able to talk or reason, as far as is presented to us in this film) humans, the apes show up and capture them all. One of the other crewmen is killed, the other gets a labotimizing head wound, and Taylor is rendered incapable of speech. We learn a bit about the ape society and their laws, but not too much, and eventually the apes learn that Taylor can speak. They suppress this--well, except for Cornelius and Zira, who are chimps that want to find out the truth in contrast to the zealously guarded other apes--and eventually put Taylor on trial. The chimps help Taylor and his cage-mage Nova escape, and they confront the other apes (epitomized by an orangutan called  Zaius) with evidence that human civilization preceded the apes. Zaius knows all this, of course, and was warned by their scriptures to "Beware the beast Man..." who kills for sport and laid waste to the world and all that. So they let Taylor and Nova run off, but Cornelius and Zira are going to have to stand trial. Then Taylor discovers that he's really on earth far in the future. Roll credits, etc.

Bit of a cliff-hanger there for the chimps.  I can't remember what happens to them in the sequel.

It's a pretty great move, I think. Different from the book; it's its own thing, with its own agenda. I was struck this time by Zira's nephew Lucius, who's a teenager spouting all this stuff about adults being the absolute worst; Taylor even says something about never trusting anybody over 30. It's weird in a movie that's about an ape society.

What I wish the movie had done (and what later movies will do) is explore how an ape society would be different than a human one. Though the apes aren't living in 20th century America, there's nothing particularly apey about their culture. They have a lawgiver from some distant past. They have flaws and foibles and talk (in English, of course) and interact much as humans might. They look sort of like differently evolved apes, but that's about it.

Of course, that wasn't the film's purpose. It's a film about culture shock, really; the shock of the devastation that Taylor's own culture could produce. There's even an Animal Farm reference, just in case we weren't picking up on it.

Monday, February 8, 2016

On Neil Gaiman

I started reading stories by Neil Gaiman because of two guys with sort of the same name. Sean Houthoofd recommended I read Sandman. He said it was the sort of thing I would like. I read comics, I liked mythology. I forget which paperback he showed me first, but whatever it was, I hated the art enough that I didn't take another look at Sandman for a decade.

Later, Shawn Galdeen lent me Stardust--the Vertigo edition with the spectacular Charles Vess illustrations. Then he lent me Neverwhere, which wasn't as good but I still liked it. This was right before American Gods came out, so I have been able to follow Gaiman's works since them.

Eventually, based on American Gods, I went back and read Sandman. Now that I trusted Gaiman's writing enough to get past the art, I really got into it. I never came to appreciate the art, except Michael Zulli's issues and certain others like Vess's (Issue 19 is a masterpiece of both writing and penciling).

Then came Anansi Boys. I liked about the first fifty pages of that book, but after that I found it boring and anti-climactic. Gaiman writes an awful lot of anti-climaxes. The Last Temptation, done in collaboration with Michael Zulli and Alice Cooper, is a perfect example. So's Odd and the Frost Giants. And, to some extent, the entirety of Sandman. An anti-climax isn't always a bad thing. Gaiman's characters, when coming to the end of their stories, tend to talk things through rather than fight. That's what Odd does with the frost giant--and it works for that story. Odd is such a great character as he is, lamed in a logging accident, that an explosive confrontation would be totally out of tone with the rest of the book. But in Anansi Boys, the ending just felt flat. Lots of people seem to like it, though.

One problem for me was that I love Anansi--the spider and trickster figure from certain mythologies. I wanted a story that felt like Anansi stories feel, and the novel wasn't like that at all, even when it was retelling some of the folktales. So it didn't match my expectations. That, in part, is on me.

Like many writers, Gaiman explores similar themes across his stories. The cyclical nature of stories and of time is one. The nature of identity as related to choice is another.

Between the publication of American Gods and Anansi Boys, I attended the Sandman convention called Fiddler's Green. It was a good excuse to visit Galdeen in Minneapolis, and I got to talk to Todd Klein about lettering for a very long time. What a great guy. At that convention, we watched Neil Gaiman and Kaitlin Kiernan write a single-page Sandman story each. We saw Charles Vess and Jill Thompson draw them. We saw Todd Klein letter them. And we were each given a single photocopy of the two stories. It doesn't get much better than that.

Then I read Gaiman's Marvel series, 1602 and The Eternals. I did not enjoy either one of them. I can't exactly put it into words why I didn't like them. Just didn't. Somewhere in the middle there I read Smoke and Mirrors, and enjoyed a lot of that. Loved Coraline, too.

Then came Fragile Things. I liked a few of the stories and poems in there: "The Day the Saucers Came" is great. So's "Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire." And the idea at the heart of "Inventing Aladdin" is a nice one, even if Shahrzad learned all her stories from books. I like Gaiman's characterization of Shahrzad as desperate, finding inspiration in her quotidian existence, but I also like the supremely confident Shahrzad, who enters Shahriyar's chamber with all the learning of the world in her head.

Other than that, the rest of Fragile Things feels like the same story told over and over again, and it's not even a terribly interesting story, at least for me. It's the story of a guy who just doesn't understand women. So the women become aliens, or huldre folk, or nothing more than a few scraps of a life found in a bus. It's not that Gaiman's stories depict woman in a negative light in this way, but it's just boring to read again and again. Sure, "Sunbird's" good, but I prefer Sylvia Warner's "The Phoenix," which covers much the same territory.

I tried to read The Graveyard Book. Didn't like it, so I gave up a few chapters into it.. I might give it another try in a while. I did like Sandman: Overture, but that seems irrelevant at this point. It's Sandman, after all.

What's given me more faith in him in the long run are Fortunately: The Milk (which I was predisposed to like because of the Skottie Young illustrations) and The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Regardless, I'll pay attention to what Gaiman's writing. It just might be great.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Domesticated Fox

So this guy decided to domesticate foxes. Dymitri Belyaev was a Russian geneticist who wanted to study the domestication process, so he just went ahead and did so, starting in 1959. In 1999, fourteen years after his death, Lyudmila Trut published an article about the experiment, which is ongoing, in American Scientist.

It's fascinating stuff, marred only (as far as I can tell) by the conditions in which the foxes are kept: "To ensure that their tameness results from genetic selection, we do not train the foxes. Most of them spend their lives in cages and are allowed only brief "time dosed" contact with human beings. Pups are caged with their mothers until they are 1 1/2 to 2 months old. Then they are caged with their litter mates but without their mothers. At three months, each pup is moved to its own cage."

The results of the selective breeding of 45,000 foxes across some fifty generations is that they've succeeded in crafting a domesticated fox. But they were selecting only for tameness, only for behavior. Nonetheless, they found that many physical features changed as well, including pigment, ear floppiness, and skull features. They note changes to reproductive cycles, infant development, and sexual maturation (the domesticated foxes reach maturity a month earlier than do their farmed and wild counterparts).

Of interest to the folklorist in me is that analogy that Trut uses to characterize the experiment: "By intense selective breeding, we have compressed into a few decades an ancient process that originally unfolded over thousands of years. Before our eyes, the Beast has turned into Beauty," as the aggressive behavior of our herd's wild progenitors entirely disappeared."

Here's a link to a video chronicling the experiment, in which you can see the silver foxes in question.

Of all the sciences that feature in science fiction, I'm most interested in evolutionary biology. I'm not well-read enough in that discipline to know what other experiments are being conducted within its laboratories and field work , but this stuff about foxes is fascinating. Why does their coloring change and their ears get floppy when selected for behavior and attitude? Why is neoteny a thing? And, above all, what are the ethical implications of this sort of work? In the video linked to above, we learn that the scientists are also breeding for aggression: one of the researchers gets bit by one and says, "This isn't a fox, it's a dragon."

Anyway, one of their findings is that aggression/tameness isn't related to the way the fox is raised; they have "cross-fostered" some of the pups, giving the offspring of an aggressive to a tame mother. The aggression wins out, not the way the mother raises the pup. Nature trumps nurture.