Why PETA Wanted to Love ‘Rampage’—but Just Couldn’t

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3 min read

Brad Peyton’s new action-adventure–sci-fi flick Rampage came so close. In the film, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson portrays a primatologist—someone who studies nonhuman primates—who shares an unwavering bond with George, an orphaned gorilla he rescued from poachers. After George mutates “into a raging creature of enormous size,” Johnson’s character sets out to save his animal friend.

As if this animal-loving plotline weren’t perfect enough, the primates and mutant “creatures” who star in Rampage were brought to life by Weta Digital—the same Oscar-winning visual effects company behind the Planet of the Apes movies—using computer-generated imagery, or CGI.

So why is this seemingly pro-animal movie garnering criticism from PETA? Live animals were still used to create Rampage. According to producers, real animals from the infamous Birds & Animals Unlimited (BAU) were used on set. Last year, a PETA eyewitness investigation exposed the conditions inside BAU, a leading animal supplier to the film and television industries. An eyewitness who worked there documented chronic neglect, including that sick and injured animals went without adequate veterinary care, animals were confined to filthy enclosures, and they were denied food so that they’d be hungry when being trained to do tricks.

PETA’s eyewitness found that two cats, named Gus and Nibbs, were virtually starved for several days because a trainer said that they were “fat,” and they lost 5 percent of their bodyweight in just five days. The eyewitness also found that an owl was being kept in a feces-strewn enclosure that went uncleaned for at least six weeks, an emaciated pig was denied veterinary care to treat bloody sores, and dogs were living in pound-like kennels with concrete floors and no bedding, even though overnight temperatures dropped into the low forties. The ranch manager admitted to PETA’s eyewitness that a kangaroo named Lenny had died—after being unable to eat and, as reportedly seen in postmortem X-rays, having sustained a broken jaw—and that she had falsified a federal document, stating that he had “gone to Texas.”

Based on PETA’s evidence, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspected BAU and cited it for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act. The violations included failing to provide two pigs who had skin conditions with adequate veterinary care and failing to supply bedding to dogs who were left outdoors when overnight temperatures dropped below 50 degrees. The USDA has been citing BAU since 1991.

Lights, Camera, Cruelty

In addition to Rampage, BAU has rented out animals to hundreds of productions, including The Hangover, Marley and Me, Game of Thrones, Pirates of the Caribbean, A Dog’s Purpose, and Crazy Alien. Video footage shows that dogs were abused during the filming of both A Dog’s Purpose and Crazy Alien.

The living conditions documented at BAU aren’t uncommon for animals used in entertainment, and as the above videos show, animal suffering may not end at BAU’s complex—it can continue on movie sets.

Animals Aren’t Actors

Rampage had all the makings of a praiseworthy, animal-friendly film. Sadly, any filmmaker who uses highly intelligent, sensitive animals as if they’re props for our amusement is exploiting them, and—despite providing a great narrative and using some computer-generated animals—this film is in fact doing more harm than good.

Films like Isle of Dogs, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and The Jungle Book, among others, prove that there’s no reason to use live animals when animation, stop motion, blue-screen techniques, computer-generated imagery, and other advanced technology can produce realistic substitutes. Many productions—such as War for the Planet of the Apes, The Walking Dead, and Jurassic World—are at least opting to use CGI to replace all wild animals.

Sadly, Rampage reportedly used dogs, a rat, and a live wolf.

Even when abuse doesn’t occur on set, it’s the treatment of the animals off set, away from the public eye, that filmmakers should be especially worried about, as even American Humane (the organization tasked with monitoring film and TV productions) doesn’t monitor off-set living conditions.

PETA advocates the use of non-animal alternatives and encourages entertainment-industry executives to pledge not to use live animals in their work.

Never Support a Movie That Uses Live Animals

No animals willingly perform—they do so only out of fear of the off-set consequences of not acting on cue. Listen to the podcast episode below to learn more about animals used in film and television:

Learn more about animals in film on The PETA Podcast:

Listen to more episodes on iTunes and Spotify! Subscribe for new episodes.

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