Jane

Review by Matt Turner

Directed by

Brett Morgen

Starring

Jane Goodall

Anticipation.

NatGeo documentary on well-documented, rightly adored figure. Still, chimpanzees.

Enjoyment.

The splendour of nature and science. A chimpanzee stealing a hand of bananas from a scientist’s tent.

In Retrospect.

A charming, formulaic portrait of a wonderful woman and the chimps in her life.

This affectionate documentary chronicles the life and work of renowned primatologist Jane Goodall.

Few images are more immediately satisfying than the one at the start of Brett Morgen’s archive-led bio-doc: a picture-postcard scene that sees beloved primatologist Jane Goodall sitting atop an arching tree, surveying the luscious green expanse in front of her. She is queen of her domain, and friend to all apes. This is one of many captivating scenes in a magnificent-looking doc which finds new life in a well-covered subject.

Its visual narrative is assembled from 140 plus hours of newly available, almost incomprehensibly luscious 16mm archive recorded by Goodall’s jungle confidant, ex-husband and famed nature photographer Hugo van Lawick. Cut rhythmically over Goodall’s expository narration and Philip Glass’ sonorous score, the footage alone – an intoxicating wash of vibrant, hyper-saturated colours and immaculate compositions – is enough to sweep the viewer in. Goodall makes an irresistible subject, describing her experiences affectingly as Morgen pieces together cuttings from the recordings to fit the shape of the story she offers, vivifying the footage through dramatic montage and the insertion of artificial sound.

Jane’s story – that of the self proclaimed “strange white ape” who wanted “to be like Doctor Dolittle” but ended up uncovering some of the most vital discoveries about man’s relation to his four legged forefathers in the history of modern science – is a compelling, if familiar one. Initially chosen for the pioneering project which most of the footage focuses on (intensive chimpanzee observation in Gombe, Tanzania) for her humility and naivité, through an intensive dedication to her work, Goodall became, as she sweetly puts it, “closer to animals and nature, closer to myself,” observing behaviours believed impossible in non-human creatures.

It’s a little disappointing then, that a film all about the excitement of breaking new ground does not reflect this inventiveness in the shape of its own form.

Published 20 Nov 2017

Tags: Brett Morgen Jane Goodall

Anticipation.

NatGeo documentary on well-documented, rightly adored figure. Still, chimpanzees.

Enjoyment.

The splendour of nature and science. A chimpanzee stealing a hand of bananas from a scientist’s tent.

In Retrospect.

A charming, formulaic portrait of a wonderful woman and the chimps in her life.

Related Reviews

Project Nim

By Martyn Conterio

The life and times of Nim Chimpsky make for an extraordinary and tragic tale from director James Marsh.

review LWLies Recommends

Kong to Kong: The complete screen history of cinema’s greatest monster

By Matt Thrift

We take an exhaustive look back at the ups and downs of this iconic movie simian.

Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck

By Adam Woodward

Unprecedented access to the Cobain archives fuels this cover-all collage documentary.

review

What are you looking for?

Little White Lies Logo

About Little White Lies

Little White Lies was established in 2005 as a bi-monthly print magazine committed to championing great movies and the talented people who make them. Combining cutting-edge design, illustration and journalism, we’ve been described as being “at the vanguard of the independent publishing movement.” Our reviews feature a unique tripartite ranking system that captures the different aspects of the movie-going experience. We believe in Truth & Movies.

Editorial

Design

Sign up to our newsletter to hear more from team LWLies