CAPSULE: This biography of Jane Goodall shows us how she has changed our definition of what is and is not human by her in-depth (and continuing) study of chimpanzee behavior. The film is a feast for the eye with its beautiful animal photography. Just how these images became part of the film is actually part of the story. This is certainly one of the year's best documentaries. Rating: +3 (-4 to +4) or 9/10
JANE is a biographical documentary about the life of Jane Goodall and her study of chimpanzee behavior in the wild. Perhaps the first real wonder of the film is that it could be made like this at all. There must have been somewhere a tremendous trove of film of Goodall in the wild. My first reaction on seeing the film was that it had been cast with a woman who looked just very like Goodall herself. It took a moment to realize this was the original footage of her days in Africa. The picture is so sharp for most of the footage it looks like it has to be re-enactment, but this is the original photography.
As a child Jane Goodall read the stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and she wanted to live like Tarzan's Jane in Africa surrounded by animals. Sadly, she could not afford college and ended up a secretary. In spite of her not having the necessary schooling to be sent to observe animals in the wild, Louis Leakey--yes, *that* Louis Leakey--chose her to go to Gombe in Africa to study chimpanzee behavior. Leakey considered that education was not nearly as important as an open mind, a passion for knowledge, a love of animals, and a monumental patience. These were virtues that the neophyte Goodall had in abundance. The last of these virtues, the patience, would be badly needed as chimpanzees are very unhappy with the presence of these strange tall white apes who cover themselves up and who make these funny noises with their mouths. And so began Goodall's first great challenge, winning over the chimps, in what has become the longest study of any animal in its natural habitat--going on fifty years and still continuing.
The animal photography in this film is absolutely stunning. It was shot by Hugo van Lawick, considered to be one of the greatest animal photographers of all time. He plays a major part in the life of Goodall, as the film relates. Director Brett Morgen reconstructed much of the photography from what was thought to be long-lost footage, but restored and digitally enhanced for this film. All this is flavored by a score by Philip Glass and one of his few scores without repetitious minimalism.
To this point the film has played only at film festivals and has not had a general release. A faint criticism of the film: at times it shows too much of Goodall's private life when the viewer (perhaps just this viewer) is anxious to get back to insights of chimpanzee behavior. Goodall has a battle in convincing the general population that a chimpanzee is a thinking and reasoning individual. Note: If the viewer is expecting a candy-coated, Disney view of chimpanzees it should be noted that apes are more like humans than that and Goodall discovers some not very nice aspects of chimpanzee behavior. Toward the end of the film there are some dark touches.
Goodall's choices sometimes seem to be questionable. She bribes the apes to come into her camp, an environment very different from their wild habitat. We do see some very negative aspects of contact between humans and apes. I rate the film a +3 on the -4 to +4 scale or 9/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt7207238/combined
What others are saying: https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/jane
Mark R. Leeper Copyright 2017 Mark R. Leeper