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Using a trove of never-before-seen footage, the film tells the story of Jane's early explorations and research in Tanzania, focusing on her groundbreaking field work, her relationship with her cameraman and husband Hugo Van Lawick, and the chimpanzees that were the subject of her study.Written by
A fine addition to the body of films devoted to Jane Goodall's work
Relying heavily upon previously unseen footage from the film vaults of National Geographic, this release will be of interest to people who have followed Dr. Goodall's groundbreaking work. To the same audience, however, much of the narrative will already be familiar. To my mind, it is best seen as an appendix to the fine work that has already been done in documenting the now legendary story of Jane Goodall rather than as a definitive synopsis of her career. Given that much of the visuals are over half a century old, younger audiences especially might have difficulty reconciling the production values of mid-twentieth century field location footage with the high expectations engendered by the modern cinema experience. Where this film shines, and the reason I would encourage people to see this film in a cinema, is the sound. The score (by the inimitable and immediately recognizable Phillip Glass) is itself compelling, and appropriately mirrors the emotional cadence of the visual narrative. The sound design and editing, apart from the music, however, is truly brilliant. The theater erupts in a chorus of chimpanzee cries, among other jungle soundscapes, in many parts of the movie, and I almost felt the need to turn around to see what might be behind me at some points. Glass also cleverly weaves chimp calls into the score in a syncopated "cat's cradle" of rhythm at one point, which brought a smile on my face by mere virtue of its compositional ingenuity; this film is "ear candy." That being said, despite the many out of focus and grainy shots, there are some truly breathtaking visuals in the movie provided by Hugo van Lawick, Dr. Goodall's original videographer and eventual (ex)husband. The most breathtaking stuff comes from the Serengeti, and is therefore ancillary to Dr. Goodall's work the Gombe Reserve, but is still important in the personal narrative of her life. You will not see a more intimate portrayal of Dr. Goodall's journey elsewhere however, despite the miles of celluloid devoted to her. Anyone who reads her books will already be familiar with the story disclosed in the story line itself, including the incalculable value of the influence of Dr. Goodall's mother, but the footage of "Mum" in camp at Gombe will be a treat for those who have hitherto only known her as a character mentioned in prose, passing dialogue in a previous documentary, or mention in one of Dr. Goodall's innumerous public appearances. While much of the visual media of this film is novel, and the narrative itself mostly familiar, the presentation is likely to entertain, if not inform, almost any viewer. Modern audiences are cautioned to understand that this is not a film that relies upon computer- generated special effects, explosions, and a vast post-production budget beyond restoring and improving half- century old celluloid reels. It will very likely succeed in evoking an emotional response, which is, after all, the aim of any artistic work. That Dr. Goodall's entire career succeeds in the same vein is a powerful argument for the assertion that her life itself must be viewed as a contribution to art as much as to science.
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