(aka 'Koko, le gorille qui parle')

Directed by Barbet Schroeder
France/USA 1978


  In 1977, acclaimed director Barbet Schroeder and cinematographer Nestor Almendros entered the universe of the world’s most famous primate to create the captivating documentary Koko: A Talking Gorilla. The film introduces us to Koko soon after she was brought from the San Francisco Zoo to Stanford University by Dr. Penny Patterson for a controversial experiment—she would be taught the basics of human communication through American Sign Language. An entertaining, troubling, and still relevant documentary, Koko: A Talking Gorilla sheds light on the ongoing ethical and philosophical debates over the individual rights of animals and brings us face-to-face with an amazing gorilla caught in the middle.

Theatrical Release: October 11th, 1978

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DVD Review: Criterion - Region 1 - NTSC

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Distribution Criterion Collection - Spine # 340 - Region 1 - NTSC
Runtime 1:20:36 
Video 1.33:1 Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 4.29 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.


Audio English (Dolby Digital 2.0), DUB: French (Dolby Digital 2.0)  
Subtitles English, None

Release Information:
Studio: Criterion Collection

Aspect Ratio:
Original Aspect Ratio 1.33:1

Edition Details:

• Video interview with Schroeder (11:04)
• Liner notes essay by author Gary Indiana and an homage to Koko from Marguerite Duras

DVD Release Date: July 11th, 2006

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Chapters: 14




I was quite astounded to see that this is another of Criterion's very few fully non-progressive DVD (see 'combing' examples at bottom). Occasionally Criterion utilize a transfer process called 'alchemist' where very infrequent (possibly only 6 instances throughout the entire film), of fine combing can be detected, but this is, as usual non-HD sourced material, every 3rd frame. It is interlaced. I have contacted them about it in hopes that my screener copy is an aberration. I will report back if I get any response. It would be a devastating trend if it continued.

The other significant DVD production detail about Koko: A Talking Gorilla (like another recent 1.33 film release - Equinox) it has NOT been pictureboxed. We can assume that Criterion have abandoned this DVD production practice - hopefully for good. But on their website it declares that the upcoming re-release of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai - 'The picture has been slightly window-boxed to ensure that the maximum image is visible on all monitors.' So we are still uncertain at this point. We will report as more information surfaces.

It is stated that this is a 'New, restored digital transfer supervised and approved by director Barbet Schroeder' - and as we have no idea about quality of the source material we can only assume that this is the best it can look (excepting that it is interlaced). There are some very faint light scratches and colors are a shade dull but overall it is tube acceptable. It contains an optional French DUB and optional English subtitles. There is an 11 minute interview with director Schroeder and some quality liner notes.

Well, I'm afraid I wasn't overtaken with the film experience. Perhaps I am too caught up in fictionalized film stories. It was interesting, bordering on fascinating, but perhaps I was expecting more. In the supplement interview, I had the feeling that Schroeder was trying to be a bit of an opportunist doing this documentary - in rumored expectation that the authorities would step in and take Koko away once they learned he was being educated with sign language. THEN it really would be a colossal story - even beyond that of a low-level communicating gorilla. I am, of course, just surmising.

It is at Criterions low price point (35% off o now on Pre-Order) and I think you would have to be relatively keen on the topic to get strong value from this particular release. A positive is that you probably won't find it anywhere else digitally. Home Vision used to sell the VHS so we know it was part of their shared copyright holdings. Another bonus is that it is something I could watch with my young sons.

Gary W. Tooze


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Two combing examples...




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Distribution Criterion Collection - Spine # 340 - Region 1 - NTSC


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Mississauga, Ontario,


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