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Koko: A Talking Gorilla (Criterion Collection)

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Product Details

  • Actors: Koko (III), Penny Patterson, Saul Kitchener, Carl Pribram, Roger Fouts
  • Directors: Barbet Schroeder
  • Format: Color, Dolby, DVD-Video, Full Screen, Subtitled, NTSC
  • Language: English
  • Subtitles: English
  • Region: Region 1 (US and Canada This DVD will probably NOT be viewable in other countries. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • MPAA Rating: UNRATED
  • Studio: Criterion
  • Release Date: July 11 2006
  • Run Time: 80 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #58,864 in DVD (See Top 100 in DVD)

Product Description

Product Description

In 1977, acclaimed director Barbet Schroeder and cinematographer Nestor Almendros entered the universe of the world's most famous primate to create this captivating documentary. The film introduces us to the remarkable Koko at the age of three, recently 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 the amazing "individual" caught in the middle.


Many folks have heard about the gorilla who learned sign language, but few have seen the depth revealed in Koko: A Talking Gorilla. In 1977 Barbet Schroeder and Nestor Almendros teamed up to explore the world of this gentle ape and her researcher friends, and the film raises difficult issues, questioning basic assumptions of scientists and skeptics alike. Of vital importance to both sides of the arguments on topics as diverse as animal rights and artificial intelligence is the question of whether Koko understood abstract concepts in the same way we do, which is no clearer now than then. The film, though, is careful to follow the gorilla's entire range of behavior and helps individuals decide for themselves what was happening behind her eyes. Powerful, thought-provoking, and even heartbreaking, Koko: A Talking Gorilla is essential viewing for anyone interested in intelligence, communication, and the nature of humanity. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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By Pam on March 15 2001
Format: VHS Tape
One word! Awesome! KoKo changes our view about Gorillas. Koko's emotions seem almost human. I found myself laughing and crying, but most of all unable to move from my seat. The scene after KoKo is told about the kitten is heartbreaking, and should make everyone look at animals, especially Gorillas differently. I will never look at a gorilla at the zoo in the same manner. It just makes me sad to think about these incredible, intelligent, gentle, but yet so fierce and wild animals.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 12 reviews
34 of 37 people found the following review helpful
Awe Inspiring! March 15 2001
By Pam - Published on Amazon.com
Format: VHS Tape
One word! Awesome! KoKo changes our view about Gorillas. Koko's emotions seem almost human. I found myself laughing and crying, but most of all unable to move from my seat. The scene after KoKo is told about the kitten is heartbreaking, and should make everyone look at animals, especially Gorillas differently. I will never look at a gorilla at the zoo in the same manner. It just makes me sad to think about these incredible, intelligent, gentle, but yet so fierce and wild animals.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
a unique Criterion release Sept. 10 2006
By Ted - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
This review is for the Criterion Collection DVD edition of the film.

Koko: A Talking Gorilla is a documentary about Koko the Gorilla who has become famous for having learned American Sign Language.

The film explores Koko's life living in a modified trailer at Stanford University. This film is older so it does not explore most of Koko's life who has become much more famous since the film's release. The film also was done at a time where Koko was on loan from the San Francisco Zoo and was in danger of being taken back.

This also is the only Criterion released film to date where the main subject is not a human.

The DVD includes a new interview with the film's director Barbet Schroeder and an optional French language audio track made for the film's release in France.

I liked this film and highly recommend it
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Not like us? Dec 30 2007
By Joseph Kimsey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
I just watched an extraordinary documentary called Koko - A Talking Gorilla, and was truly moved by what I saw. Although this film has been discounted as emotionalist, anecdotal blather by many scientists and philosophers, it offers further proof that non-human animals have consciousness and can experience the myriad of moods that we do. Non-human animals may not have the higher caliber of reflection that our species possesses (although observing some of the cretins that I see on daily basis tends to negate that assumption), they certainly experience emotions, retain memories and possess consciousness. Seeing this film makes me resent even more the philosophical assumptions put forward by Rene Descartes. For those not in the know, Descartes saw animals as mere automatons that don't think, feel or possess any real sense of consciousness. What twaddle. I am tempted to resort to some patented American anti-Franco invective and call Descartes a ridiculous Froggie moron who couldn't cogito to save his life, except that this film was produced by a French team. So Viva la France! So please see Koko - A Talking Gorilla, and revel in that fact that all life evolved from the same source.
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Fascinating Documentary April 26 2007
By Jay Young - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
Koko, the gorilla that knows American Sign Language, received a lot of publicity back in the late 70s and early 80s. She hasn't been in the spotlight much lately, however. Criterion's re-release of the documentary "Koko- A Talking Gorilla" allows viewers to re-discover the sensational gorilla that caused so much controversy.

The movie documents the efforts of Penny Patterson, a doctoral student at Stanford at the time the movie was released, as she works with Koko, a 6 year-old (at the time) gorilla who supposedly can communicate through American Sign Language. Towards the beginning, we learn that other scientists have taught ASL to chimpanzees, but it had never been tried with Gorillas before Koko, since they were considered too dangerous. Whatever your opinion on the wisdom of the experiment, you have to admit that Patterson is a brilliant, dedicated teacher and that Koko is an amazing Gorilla.

"KoKo" raises all kinds of difficult questions relating to the relationship between humans and animals. First, can KoKo (or any primate for that matter) understand language and concepts the same way that humans can, or is she simply displaying operant conditioning? This isn't any clearer now than it was 30 years ago. There are examples within the documentary to support both points of view. For instance, in one scene Patterson is getting a yellow sweater out for KoKo, but she keeps making the sign for red, apparently indicating that she is asking for her red sweater; this suggests that KoKo is indeed thinking with language. Plus, Patterson claims that KoKo creates new words such as signing "finger bracelet" when shown a ring. On the other hand, at one point KoKo makes a mess of papers and rips a book. Patterson is visibly angry with KoKo and asks her, "why did you make a mess" and "why do you rip things when I'm not looking?" KoKo just signs "me bad." In watching that scene, there was nothing to convince me that KoKo even had the capacity to answer a question like that. In this case, I would side with San Francisco Zoo Director Saul Kitchener who says at one point, "with Gorillas there is no right or wrong." In addition, there's a scene where KoKo presses buttons that speak words through a computerized voice. Supposedly, KoKo understands the meaning of the buttons, such as "apple" and "milk," and KoKo would press a button when asked a particular question. It seemed as though KoKo were simply pushing buttons and not having any clue what they meant, other than that if she pushed one particular button, she would get an apple- classic operant conditioning. One way to resolve the controversy, or at least shed more light on it, would be to have cognitive scientists who know ASL conduct aptitude tests, without Patterson's supervision, to determine what KoKo's cognitive capacity is. To my knowledge, however, nothing like this has been done. And as director Barbet Schroeder points out in his interview, there are very few articles in peer-reviewed journals on KoKo.

Then of course, there's the whole issue of KoKo's rights, if any. Saul Kitchener sees KoKo as the zoo's property. Patterson, of course, has a different view. She sees KoKo as an individual, and comparable to a child with Down Syndrome; disabled relative to the general population, but still possessing the same rights. But then this begs the question: If KoKo is an individual with rights, then what right does Patterson have to teach KoKo something that she would not have learned in her natural environment? Indeed, how does one go about proving that KoKo gave her consent for the experiment? One issue that came to my mind was, if KoKo has rights and harms or is harmed by another gorilla, then how would one go about holding the perpetrator responsible? If a gorilla has rights, then it has responsibilities, such as not to interfere with the rights of other gorillas. But if the gorilla has no concept of right and wrong like humans do, as Kitchener alleges, then the whole case of KoKo having rights collapses, or at least is seriously problematic. But I digress.

"KoKo" is a must-see for movie fans who enjoy thought-provoking documentaries. Plus, it's a great movie to use for discussion in schools at all levels.
Incredibly enlightening on animal intelligence July 4 2012
By Annie M daffodils - Published on Amazon.com
Format: DVD
I have an older edition of this DVD and like to loan it out so others can see for themselves how smart Koko, and other gorillas, are. Last time I loaned it, it failed to come back to me. So I am happy to order this one from the Criterion collection. I love Koko. I learned about her in college around 1974 or so. A few years ago I thought about Koko and decided to google her. I was happy to see she is still going strong.
The DVD shows how intelligent she is - she has a sense of humor (which some people don't even have, lol) and grieves (heartbreaking scene after she is told her kitten, Allball, has died). You have to see this to realize how important this is. You will be appalled that people still eat gorilla meat - they share 98% of DNA with us. Of course, other animals we eat are sentient beings, so that's a cunumdrum for me, not being a vegetarian.
If you care about animals, you will love this DVD and Koko's story. If you are like me, you will want everyone to know about Koko.