I thought about setting up a couple typewriters and letting a gaggle of monkeys (I have some that apparently live nearby, since I frequently hear their shrieks at my pool) pound out a review for Ape Genius, but in the end I didn’t, because I couldn’t be assured they could meet a deadline.
I know what you’re thinking: “Do I have enough weed to get me through the rest of the month?” I know what else you’re thinking: “A gaggle of monkeys? Isn’t that geese?” Aha — my point precisely! Do monkeys and their ilk have the same grasp with word association that humans do? Questions like these are addressed in Ape Genius, an hour-long NOVA special that plumbs the connections between humankind and our nearest relatives in the animal world.
It’s easy to feel empathy for the great apes: chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans and gorillas. For decades we’ve known that some of them can use simple tools and even be trained to communicate with us in sign language. Their faces and eyes are expressive, they have a social component to their interaction with the world, and they have some of the largest brains in proportion to body size of any animals. But just how smart are these animals?
In co-production with National Geographic, this mini-documentary explores the secret mental lives of apes, and specifically the small yet crucial gap between ape intellects and our own. Every time we’ve defined a mental ability that we think is uniquely human — everything from culture to simple math — the great apes have it too. But now scientists are zeroing in on tantalizing hints of what that essential difference may be. Besides its hugely entertaining sequences of chimps staging pool parties and working vending machines, Ape Genius reveals a new and deeper understanding of our profound kinship with our primate relatives. Naturally, Ape Genius is fascinating in no small part because of the manner in which it points up the complex nature — at once defined and elusive — of exactly what it means to be human. In this respect, writer-director John Rubin’s film works for both high- and lowbrow audiences, entertaining and engaging them, and allowing them to reflect only as much as they want.
Housed in a regular Amray case, Ape Genius is presented in 16×9 anamorphic widescreen, with closed captions, video descriptions for the visually impaired and downloadable, printable materials for educators. There are, alas, no other supplemental DVD features. For more information, or to purchase the disc, click here. B+ (Movie) D (Disc)