VITAL SIGNSrnOf Apes and Yahoosrnby George McCartneyrnInstinctrnProduced by Spyglass Entertainmentrnand Touchstone PicturesrnDirected by ]on TurteltaubrnScreenplay by Gerald Di Pegornand Daniel QuinnrnReleased by Buena Vista PicturesrnPushing TinrnProduced by Art Linson Productions,rn3 Miles Apart Productions Ltd., et al.rnDirected by Mike NewellrnScreenplay by Darcy Freyrnand Glen CharlesrnReleased by 20th Century FoxrnFilm CorporationrnStar Wars: Episode I—ThernPhantom MenacernProduced by Fucasfilm Ltd.rnDirected by George LucasrnScreenplay by George LucasrnReleased by 20th Century FoxrnFilm CorporationrnElectionrnProduced by Bona Fide Productions,rnMTV Productions, andrnParamount PicturesrnDirected by Alexander PaynernScreenplay by Alexander Paynernand ]im Taylor lU; based onrna novel by Tom PerrottarnReleased by Paramount PicturesrnAscene from director )on Turteltaub’srnInstinct will set the stage for thisrnmonth’s film homily. We see AnthonyrnHopkins as primatologist Ethan Powell,rnhis white hair festooned wildly over hisrnbeetling brows, his eyes glittering with anrnobsession worthy of the Ancient Mariner.rnHe is reclining among a tribe of monntainrngorillas in their leafy habitat. Withrnrigorous scientific discipline, he’s spentrnmonths inching his way into their gendernlives. His full acceptance is now at hand.rnThe head male absently holds out arncrooked forefinger and Powell touches itrnwith his own far more eager digit, tip torntrembling fingertip in the middle of thernscreen. It’s a perfectly inverted Sistinernmoment, hi place of God imparting spiritrnto Adam, we have a gorilla bestowingrnsoulful warmth to an icy professional.rnMichelangelo had it wrong: Real inspirationrncomes from below, not above. Insteadrnof reaching for our spiritual destiny,rnwe must delve into our animal origins ifrnwe want to become whole and saved.rnWhat is it about filmmakers? Theyrnhave at their disposal a technical art formrnof staggering ingenuity, yet they’re foreverrnurging us to flee our machine-riddenrncivilization and return to the primal life.rnDisney expects to make zillions plyingrnthis line with Tarzan, its cartoon versionrnof Edgar Rice Burroughs’ pulp version ofrnRousseau’s noble savage. No doubt marketrnresearch indicates Americans arernlonging for yet another romance of thernvirtuous primitive. The same nostalgiarnfor primal purity infects three of thisrnmonth’s films— Instinct, Pushing Tin,rnand Star Wars: Episode 1—The PhantomrnMenace. Only the fourth. Election, remindsrnus that snakes lurk in the garden.rnInstinct argues that we moderns canrnonly be saved from our hellish technocracyrnby returning to a prelapsarian harmonyrnwith the beasts, in jiarticular gorillas.rn(Why is it alwavs gorillas? Or bears? Orrndolphins? Wh can’t we watch a bignamernstar chummy up with crocodiles orrnhorned toads for once?) When Powell isrnbrought back from deepest Africa (that’srnRwanda today) snariing in chains for havingrnsplit a few human skulls, he’s thrownrninto a Elorida loony bin. It seems he’srnbeen driven mad by humanity’s crimesrnagainst Mother Nature. Ten thousandrnyears ago, he hisses to his wide-eyed psychiatristrn(played by Cuba Gooding with arnremarkable lack of therapeutic detachment),rnhumankind knew how to “live inrnthe world” with other creatures. Thenrnsome miscreants Powell dubs the “Takers”rnstarted interfering with the nahiralrnbalance by thinking too much. With calculatingrnhubris, they demanded “donrinion,”rnthe right to use things —wood,rnstone, beasts—to their own ends. And sornwe, their descendants, find ourselves outcastsrnof the original garden.rnOf course, what with sabertooths, bacteria,rnand famine, humans didn’t last allrnthat long 10,000 years ago. But nornHobbesian caution about life in the staternof nature can deter anyone infected withrnRousseau’s romance of origins. Suchrnsentimental hankering for the idyllic existencernof primitives can only flourishrnamong those comfortably ensconced inrncivilization. The dignity of life withoutrncentral heating, indoor plumbing, andrnStarbuck’s on the corner is largely lost onrnthose who have to live it.rnDoes Turteltaub believe in his malarkey?rnPerhaps the credit crawl providesrna clue. Here, we discover Hopkins’ wildrnman look is the work of the stylists in thern”Hair Department.” It takes a good dealrnof artifice to be quite this natural.rnA variant of the noble savage surfacesrnin Mike Newell’s ludicrous Pushing Tin.rnHe’s Russell Bell, the preternaturallyrncalm flight controller played by BillyrnBob Thornton. Unlike his chattering,rnstressed-out colleagues at the air trafficrncomputer consoles, he’s all silent poise asrnhe guides the wide-bodies — “pushes tin,”rnin the profession’s argot—through thernrancid air over New York. He teaches thernvalue of laid-back competence to a frenetic,rnstressed-out colleague who is inrndanger of losing his job. “Thought isrnyour enemy,” Thornton counsels sententiously.rn”You have to let go.” Let go?rnNot while I’m in the air, pal.rnRussell derives his peace of mind fromrnhis heritage. While his father was Irish,rnhe was fortunate in having a NativernAmerican mother. This means he’s rooted,rncloser to nature than others, andrnmuch wiser. In the climactic scene, he’srnshown seated at the controllers’ consolernwith a feather over his left ear. I have tornsay I was offended. Why not a shamrockrnover his right ear? Is Newell saying wernmicks lack inner peace? Quick, call thernmulticidtural police.rnThis nastalgia for primal balance is thernone thread of coherence in Star Wars:rnEpisode I—The Phantom Menace. Wernmeet the wise Jedi warrior, Qui-GonrnJinn, played b Liam Neeson with a gravityrnsome mav mistake for somnolence.rnAgainst a backgroimd of computer-generatedrnimages, fission-powered spaceships,rnand nimiberless robots, he repeatedlyrnintones this advice to his nineyear-rnold protege, Anakin Skywalker:rn”Stay in the moment. Feel. Trust yourrn42/CHRONICLESrnrnrn