Project Nim (2011) Review

Rise of the Planet of the Apes was my favourite film of last year. It had a great story, fantastic action and launched a series that I’m looking forward to seeing the development of. At around the same time, a film that followed similar themes was being released. A film that followed the life of a chimp that lived with a human family, was treated as a human (to some extent) and then went on to a chimp sanctuary where his life may not have been as good as when he was at home.

You could argue, with some accuracy, that it was almost identical to the first half of the blockbuster that starred James Franco, except that this film was a documentary and the story was, incredibly, true.

As Rise of the Planet of the Apes was destroying the box office, there was a film that was true, but no less compelling, also telling an important story.

All the way through Project Nim, as his life went from one location to another, his story getting more and more incredible, interesting and in some cases, shocking, I kept thinking how this would make such an amazing fiction movie. Nim’s story has everything, from the kind woman who mothers him at the beginning, the sinister linguistic professor with ulterior motives, through to nasty scientists, heroic chimp enthusiasts and naive, but kind-hearted animal sanctuary owners. As the film progressed, the credibility and believability of Nim’s experience became less and less.

That was key to what makes this documentary so interesting. The idea of a chimp learning how to effectively communicate with humans using sign language, learning English and being able to hold a conversation, is always going to be interesting to some extent. This isn’t a movie about a chimp’s grasp of English though. Its more a film about how cruel and stupid humans can be.

The film is full of people you want to shout at for doing ridiculous, non-sensical things.

The film is full of people who you want to shout at, shake and just listen to in disbelief. The fact that these people are also the film’s interviewees is even more amazing because they don’t even realise how stupid they have actually been. From beginning to end there were moments where I wanted to shout at the television because of the ridiculous decisions these people were making.

The film is also interesting because Nim’s journey takes him through some of the best and worst experiences any animal can have. If you mapped out the direction the film would take, you’d believe it was fiction but its the idea that it’s a true story that makes the movie so compelling. I would absolutely love this to be made into a feature film, with a motion captured Nim, decent actors taking the parts of each influential human and the story being told as accurately and unchanged as possible. It wouldn’t need altering as there is enough humour, love, violence and terror in Nim’s story to keep it entertaining.

There is enough in Project Nim’s story to make it a cinematic film in its own right.

It’s the best way to get this great story across because I still believe that people don’t give documentaries a chance because of the very nature of them. Project Nim would be a fantastic, cinematic movie. If I ever had the chance, I’d even have a go at making it.

Overall, at a time when people were being entertained and engrossed by an intelligent chimp rebelling against his human oppressors, there was actually another film that followed the same themes to a scarily close degree. The main difference is that Project Nim was true and this is the main fact that makes it so compelling, interesting and one of the best films of 2011.

Rating 4.5

(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)

Maybe if I get the chance, I’ll make Project Nim the movie!
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