Case Number 19090: Small Claims Court


Search For The Great Apes
National Geographic // 1975 // 51 Minutes // Not Rated
Mystery Gorillas
National Geographic // 2007 // 51 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // June 15th, 2010

The Charge

The amazing and secret world of the great apes.

The Case

As the full title of this release indicates, Mystery Gorillas / Search for the Great Apes bundles two National Geographic documentaries into one release: Mystery Gorillas from 2009 and Search for the Great Apes, originally released in 1975. While very different in age, style, and content, the two documentaries in this release create a better overall picture of the study of gorillas than either feature would have offered on its own.

Search for the Great Apes features researcher Dian Fossey and her colleague Birute Galdikas, and their efforts to better understand mountain gorillas and orangutans. For anyone who grew up with TV in the '70s, this feature is a delightful stroll down memory lane. From the classic vintage National Geographic intro to the '70s music and the powerful narration by legendary actor and narration veteran Richard Kiley, this documentary is a treat. The first half of the documentary deals with Birute Galdikas and her husband as they attempt to reintegrate young orangutans back into the wild of the Indonesian jungle after being rescued. Viewers also learn that the team has observed wild orangutans in their natural habitat, studying their behavior for a staggering 5,000 hours!

The second half of Search for the Great Apes travels to the Virunga mountains in Africa where scientist Dian Fossey, one of the world's best know gorilla researchers, has studied silverback gorillas for nearly 10 years. Over her time, Fossey built a level of trust with the gorilla family she was studying that allowed her to get close enough for personal contact. Starting her research in 1967, Fossey catalogued as many as 90 individual animals and identified 17 distinct vocal sounds the gorillas used to communicate with each other. Tragically, Fossey was murdered at her cabin in December 1985, and while her killer was never found, most people believe that she died at the hands of a poacher.

Mystery Gorillas, the second feature on this release, follows primatologist Mireya Mayor as she travels to the jungle to study a family of gorillas in their natural environment, uncovering some surprising new behaviors. My first introduction to Mayor was her appearance on the reality-flavored History Channel adventure series Expedition Africa, so it was refreshing to see her in more of a pure science role, studying animals in the field. Working with a team of local trackers and researchers from the Mondika Research Center, on the border between the Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic, Mayor is able to get up close and personal with a family of gorillas led by a 350 pound silverback male named "Kingo." By observing gorilla nests throughout the region, researchers have been able to determine that there may be as many as 100,000 gorillas in the region, a positive contrast to theories the animals may be endangered.

Mystery spends much more of its runtime on gorilla behavior and observation, rather than focusing on the researchers themselves. It's also fascinating to see another research project that involves an observation tower at an open, swampy clearing called Mbeli Bai where German primatologist Thomas Breuer has been studying gorilla mating habits and male-male competition for many years. The project is unique in that it involves an open area and a viewing platform that affords almost 100 per cent visibility of gorilla behavior that is often obscured in forest and jungle environments.

Production-wise, the two documentaries couldn't be more different. Originally airing in 1975, Search shows its age, presented in full screen with an audio mix that is almost exclusively anchored in the front. The picture quality is relatively poor throughout, landing in the "it is what it is" category. Fortunately, the content is fascinating and while soft and muted, there are breathtaking moments of gorilla behavior and interaction that are not to be missed. On the other end of the spectrum, , produced for NatGeo's splashy Wild channel, is presented in a widescreen format with bright, vivid colors and contrast and making decent use of all audio channels. While he's no Richard Kiley, actor Lance Newman provides a solid and even-paced narration that compliments the production well overall.

There are no extra features of any kind, aside from some brief trailers for other NatGeo productions.

The Verdict

For anyone fascinated by primates, and simians in particular, this release offers a wealth of informative and educational content.

Not guilty.

Review content copyright © 2010 Kent Dixon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice, Search For The Great Apes
Judgment: 72

Perp Profile, Search For The Great Apes
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

* English (SDH)

Running Time: 51 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Search For The Great Apes
* None

Scales of Justice, Mystery Gorillas
Judgment: 83

Perp Profile, Mystery Gorillas
Video Formats:
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)

* English (SDh)

Running Time: 51 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks, Mystery Gorillas
* None

* Mystery Gorillas Official Site

* Nat Geo Wild Official Site