Picks and Pans Review: Gorilla

updated 08/11/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/11/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Filmed with imagination and edited with precision, this National Geographic TV special is an essay about the creature that is, in its combination of strength, intelligence and serenity, perhaps man's most fascinating relative. The program, written by Barbara Jampel, ranges from a too brief section on the gorilla's role in popular culture (including clips from King Kong) to film of the animals in the wild, where—when they're left alone by man—they lead lives of exemplary harmony with the universe. The humans who have devoted themselves to studying the gorilla are equally interesting. They include John Aspinall, an English gambling magnate with a private collection of about 20 gorillas, whom he treats more or less like visiting relatives; Penny Patterson, the Californian who has become famous for teaching Koko the gorilla to speak in sign language; and Dian Fossey, who devoted her life in an almost monomaniacal way to studying the gorillas of Rwanda. Indeed, the main shortcoming of this tape is that the special was broadcast in 1981, and it hasn't been updated. Fossey, for instance, was murdered, apparently by poachers, last December. Koko has gone through all sorts of life changes, including the well noted death of her pet kitten. Still, this is an absorbing tape, and its closing image—a little boy and a young gorilla tentatively reaching out to touch hands—perfectly captures the wonder and emotion the program evokes. (Vestron, $29.95)

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