Project Nim (2011)

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Released 14-Mar-2012

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Documentary None
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2011
Running Time 95:00
RSDL / Flipper Dual Layered Cast & Crew
Start Up Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4,5 Directed By James Marsh
Icon Entertainment Starring Bob Angelini
Nim Chimpsky
Bern Cohen
Renne Falitz
Bob Ingersoll
Stephanie LaFarge
Jenny Lee
Reagan Leonard
James Mahoney
Laura-Ann Petitto
Case ?
RPI ? Music Dickon Hinchliffe

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

    James Marsh won an Oscar for his documentary Man on Wire. Like Project Nim, Man on Wire is a study of the fervent almost evangelical obsession some people have with certain goals. These goals can, from a distance, seemed marginal and often pointless. Project Nim is also an exceptional documentary as it takes us into the complexities of this scientific experiment and leaves us to form our own views on the value of the ideals and the merit of the people behind it.

     Nim was not the first chimpanzee, or indeed animal, to be involved in language studies. Initial attempts to train apes to talk were unsuccessful and it was considered that physiological development would prove to be a permanent bar to oral communication. Scientists then turned to the inherent qualities of the chimpanzee, their expressive hand gestures, to come up with the idea of training chimpanzee to use sign language. Several years earlier Project Washoe saw a chimpanzee reared in a home environment and taught sign language. The results of the study seemed impressive with the chimpanzee learning a wide range of signs

     Project Nim was intended to combine the "home-schooled" approach of Project Washoe with a more scientific approach. Nim was raised in a family of loving drippy hippies in New York and taken to a scientific facility for more detailed training. Whereas Washoe’s story is one of loving development Nim's fate was less humane with the chimp being taken from home environment to laboratories, open fields to cages whenever funding dried up. The film consists of archive footage of which there is a great deal as well as modern day talking head interviews. Although the project ended some 30 years ago the key players still have burning shame and resentments. Each believes that their approach to educating Nim was the correct one and all felt let down by the collapse of the project. The hippies blame the scientists for taking Nim out of a loving environment. The scientist blamed the hippies for raising Nim almost as wild as he would have been in nature. All blame Herbert Terrace for the mistakes made along the way. For his part Terrace believes that the project was a failure. His aim was never to see whether a chimpanzee could learn sign language but rather whether the language could be developed as a genuine form of expression rather than a response to immediate needs and desires.

     Many will see this documentary as an indictment on mans' unceasing desire to experiment in cruel ways with our fellow creatures, particularly intelligent beings like chimpanzees. Certainly those who fared best in the film are probably the least "scientific" scientists, those who found personal joy and creative joy in Nim by playing with him. Nim was no gentle Cornelius from Planet of the Apes. He was capable of inflicting terrible injuries when in one of its moods.

     Ultimately Project Nim is the story of a group of individuals fiercely devoted to ideals who became disillusioned. Like all great documentaries it questions and challenges.

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Transfer Quality


     Project Nim comes to DVD in a 1.85:1 transfer consistent with its cinematic aspect ratio. It is 16x9 enhanced.

     The look of the film is quite distinctive. Much of the archive footage was filmed on 8mm and 16mm film. The material appears to have been cleaned up but perfectly represents its age. When it came to shooting reconstructions of events in Nim’s life that were not originally captured on film, Marsh also uses 16mm. The result is to replicate the archive footage in terms of graininess and subdued colours.

     Finally, the interview footage of the film was shot on the RED Camera though Marsh has strayed away from a sharp digital look for the interviews and it blends quite well with the rest of the footage.

     There are no technical defects with the transfer. It looks exactly as the director intended it should. Bearing in mind the stylistic aims the colours are accurate, the flesh tones are also appropriate and there is no evidence of compression defects.

    There are no subtitles.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


     Project Nim features a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack running at 448 Kb/s.

     For a film which largely consist of talking heads and old footage this is perhaps an overkill, and there is very little for the surrounds and sub-woofer to do. However, the added bit rate is always welcome.

     The dialogue is clear and easy to understand. There are no technical defects with the sound.

     The score for the documentary is by Dickon Hinchliffe a founding member of the British indie band Tindersticks. This is another impressive, moving score from him after his scores for Cold Souls and Winters Bone.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


     There are no extras included with this DVD.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 1 release of Project Nim has a Making of featurette as well as a 15 min piece on Bob Ingersoll as well as a trailer. Given that the rich and full DVD has no extras the region one version must be preferred although it is not clear of the extent to which the extra materials can be viewed online.


     Project Nim , seen in hindsight looks like a grand folly, where even the good people are flawed in their motives. Ultimately trying to make apes communicate may not be of greater scientific value than the South Park mad scientist trying to create "five assed monkeys". All that, however, makes the documentary far more interesting and compelling.

     The DVD quality is perfectly in keeping with the directors aims. The lack of extras is a disappointment but not a surprise.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Trevor Darge (read my bio)
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Review Equipment
DVDCambridge 650BD (All Regions), using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-VW80 Projector on 110" Screen. Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 1080p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer SC-LX 81 7.1
SpeakersAaron ATS-5 7.1

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