IT'S NOT JUST that it would make a great movie, we think it already has: somewhere, sometime, we definitely recall seeing the film about the animals that steal the space ship. It begins exactly as the Russian story has. Somber, self-important VIPs are gathered from around the world to celebrate a space anniversary, and as part of this festivity another impressive space adventure is planned. The monkey shot is made: a satellite full of different-sized beasts -- other monkeys, rats, fish, bugs -- all caged or bound or encased in something, wired and labeled and monitored within an inch of their lives. The proud host country first notes with alarm that something is wrong when a photo of one fractious monkey, aptly named Troublemaker, appears on the screen minus a part of his headgear. Couldn't have pulled that part of the headgear off -- could he? Good Lord, Dmitri, what are all those weird sounds and signals coming over the monitors? Troublemaker is pushing the buttons! Can he be about to take over the navigation? At what point will we hear him announce back to the space station on Earth, "I am in control here"?
We don't know what will come next in real life, but in cinematic life there are only two main story lines to choose from.
Heavy Social Drama, Animal Rights Agit Prop Division: Troublemaker frees all the other fauna. They divide up the labor of running the craft manually. They show us inferior humans what the peaceable kingdom really looks like. Troublemaker flies to one of the few unspoiled natural places we have left alone on Earth and lets his liberated cargo out -- a rain forest someplace where they are greeted by a group of socially responsible snakes and anteaters who take them off to find new homes. Meanwhile, back in Mother Russia a Soviet female astronaut and an American space scientist overcome their rigid political differences and fall in love and prove that . . . well, something. This one is good for a huge Hollywood glamour-plus-significance benefit premiere. All the best people will be there.
Red October, Animal Crackers Division: In this one, Troublemaker has a political motive. He knows he didn't get his name for nothing back in the lab; they are on to him and plan to do him in, if not in this experiment then probably in another. The breakout is a breakout from Communism, and there must be a chase. He must also, Noah's Ark- and Tom Clancy-wise, somehow get advance notice to the CIA and the National Zoo of what he's doing, subdue and then shoot the KGB plant on the mission (surely one of the rats, unless there is an actual mole on board) and, with the summoned American help, be directed to a safe splashdown in New York Harbor by Doris Day, who will also sing, as she has before in the films at such moments of can-it-land suspense, "Que sera', sera'." There will be a patriotic ticker-tape parade in New York, for which we envision a cameo part for Oliver North riding up Fifth Avenue, and then the whole group will move to Takoma Park.
By the time you read this there may have been another, real-life result, perhaps even an unhappy one. We hope not. We have been rooting for the return to Earth of the kit and caboodle or, if you will, the whole cast. We think they have a terrific future in movies.