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Ape Genius (2008)

Nova , Nova  |  NR |  DVD
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Nova
  • Directors: Nova
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Closed-captioned, Color, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: PBS
  • DVD Release Date: May 20, 2008
  • Run Time: 56 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0013XZ6GG
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #156,870 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Special Features


Editorial Reviews

It s easy to feel empathy for the great apes chimps, bonobos, orangutans, and gorillas which are our nearest relatives in the animal world. They have some of the largest brains in proportion to body size of any animals. For decades we ve known that some of them can use simple tools and even be trained to communicate with us in sign language. But just how smart are these animals? In co-production with National Geographic, NOVA explores the provocative findings of a new generation of researchers investigating the secret mental lives of apes and the crucial gap between ape intellects and our own. It turns out that every time we ve defined a mental ability that we think is uniquely human, the great apes have it too everything from culture to planning ahead, empathy for others, and even simple math. But, as Ape Genius reveals with fascinating first-time footage from Africa and leading primate labs, the scientists are zeroing in on subtle and tantalizing hints of what that essential difference may be. Besides its hugely entertaining sequences of chimps staging pool parties and working vending machines, Ape Genius reveals a new and deeper understanding of our profound kinship with our primate relatives and exactly what it means to be human.

Customer Reviews

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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Apes are smarter than we thought, but still apes December 20, 2009
Apes are smarter and more thoughtful than we previously thought based on casual observations of these animals. But these geniuses are still apes.
This conclusion is based on recent systematic field observations as well as carefully designed scientific experiments.
Most of these experiments are well illustrated and fun to watch in this NOVA special edition. For example, a chimp, when shown two bowls of candy, can never resist pointing to the bowl with more candies, even though it has learned from previous tries that the one it is pointing to will be given to the other chimp and he will be given the other bowl. In other words, unlike humans, apes cannot easily overrule its instinctual urge.
But the really interesting part in the experiment is that the chimp will point to the bowl with fewer candies if you replace the candies with number cards.
In another experiment, apes and small children are asked to follow instructions to remove a candy from a box by tapping the box and pulling some levers. Both groups can handle the work. And then, some blocking pieces are removed from the box, leaving only a transparent structure. Now all can clearly see how their step-by-step actions lead to the successful retrieval of the candy. They are asked to do it again. The children follow exactly what they are taught, even though it is clear that some of these steps are unnecessary. The chimps, on the other hand, cut to the chase by skipping the useless tapping steps - they can learn, but they don't take learning that seriously.
The program is about studying the ape mind, but it's really aimed at showing the human genius and its limitations.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Where do they end and we keep going? June 24, 2008
I love the multiple purposes of the title. It could be oxymoronic or it could refer to humans. I'm thinking about the surprised meaning behind the title of Nicole Kidman's "The Others" in thinking about it.

There are so many thoughtful points mentioned here. Apes can figure out the sequence between one through seven, but they don't have that "a-ha!" moment where they realize that one plus x equals the next highest number. Apes do not understand the purpose behind pointing, but dogs can figure it out. An ape can cooperate with a human to move a stone, but two apes wouldn't similarly work together.

Some viewers may be frustrated in how this work presents other primates as smart yet stupid. Still, I think the work is trying to measure what apes can learn and what they cannot, so that we can point to traits that are currently solely human. Sometimes the work sounds in awe at what apes can do, but I always had heard that primates are smart. It is not that surprising. Also, I think some of this work just proves what humans are now able to videotape, rather than observe and have no one believe them. The work shows an old video of Jane Goodall and she did not look like Sigourney Weaver, by the way.

This work is actually diverse. It shows humans in the US, Japan, Germany, and Africa interacting with primates. It interviews men and women. It often compares primates and little kids and viewers with an interest in child psychology may love seeing that.

Wearing an environmentalist cap, I was worried about something. I feared the work would say, "Aren't other primates stupid?!" and have the tacit suggestion, "See! That's why we can destroy their habitats and not care less if they go extinct!" This work didn't seem to say that the difference between humans and other beings is a reason for mistreating or killing off these important animals.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Ape Genius is an episode of the scientific public television series NOVA on DVD that seeks to answer the questions: just how smart are the great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, and gorillas), and what exactly is it that differentiates their thought processes from those of humans? Apes have been seen to use tools, and controlled experiments have shown them to possess shared culture, even the ability to perform simple math. Yet the latest research has revealed subtle, crucial limitations ape brains have that prevent them from dominating the world like humans have. An utterly absorbing and educational presentation, enthusiastically recommended for public library collections and anyone curious about what makes humans unique among the animal kingdom. 54 minutes, color, with the options of closed-captioned and described video for the hearing impaired.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This film makes you think a lot about human intelligence! December 18, 2008
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For me, the highlight of this production is the comparison of other ape with human ape problem-solving. There is a strong suggestion that human apes are more likely to follow instructions, rather than the truth that they can clearly observe. This reminds me of the fact that many of Aristotle's false "observations' (such as, objects of different weights fall at different speeds) constituted authoritative knowledge for more than a thousand years, even though they could have been easily disproved by anyone who wanted to test them (Galileo in this case, although few believed him at the time). I think that it also says much about the human ape propensity for religion, or official knowledge. For humans, agreement in a social context may have more survival and reproductive value than real facts or personal observations. Anyway, well-done and worth watching.
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