Gorillas In The Mist

Gorillas In The Mist (1988)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Sigourney Weaver, Bryan Brown
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Featurette, Cast & Crew Bios, Production Notes

While the character of Ellen Ripley in the "Alien" movies were certainly Sigourney Weaver’s most famous and successful roles, her portrayal of sociologist Dian Fossey in "Gorillas In The Mist" was clearly the most remarkable and respectable one in her entire career. The immediate connection I always make with Weaver is not that of Ripley, although I am an admitted fan of "Alien". To me Sigourney Weaver has always been Dian Fossey ever since I saw "Gorillas In The Mist" for the first time in theaters in 1988. You can certainly imagine how thrilled I was when Universal Home Video decided to release "Gorillas In The Mist" on DVD.

Dian Fossey (Sigourney Weaver) is a young, aspiring and ambitious anthropologist who travels to the mountains of the Congo to study and count the remaining mountain gorillas. Soon she finds out that far less animals are left alive than everyone believed, and alarms authorities about the imminent endangerment of the species. Before she can do anything to save the species, a civil war forces her out of the country. Desperate and disillusioned she regroups and climbs the same mountains again, only this time from the peaceful Rwandan side. Soon she gets attached to a group of gorillas she is studying on a daily basis and the relationship grows closer. The paradise is lost however when poachers and animal traders continually kill the animals she loves. Fossey searches for justice and finds none, but determined to save the gorillas from extinction and despite the personal risks involved, she starts her own war against the people who kill her "family". What I find most amazing about the film is the way how Sigourney Weaver becomes Dian Fossey. You never have the feeling she is playing the infamous anthropologist, she is literally becoming the woman that saved the mountain gorillas from extinction. It is a stellar performance and no other part in Weaver’s career comes even remotely close to this dedicated presentation. It has gotten to the point that every time I hear about Dian Fossey’s work, I see Sigourney Weaver before my inner eyes, in spite of that fact that I am familiar with her original work, the pictures and the film that covers her studies, as indicated in the film.

Despite the downbeat ending – which was tragically dictated by Fossey’s real-life story "Gorillas In The Mist" is a film of hope. The beautiful photography of the film lifts your spirits and allows you to discover this paradise with the film’s characters. Dian Fossey has achieved what she tried to accomplish in all those years – through her work and passion for these animals, she has ensured the survival of the mountain gorillas at a time when no one even knew how few of them were actually left. The film was shot on location in Rwanda, at exactly the place Dian Fossey was studying the endangered animals. Even the cabin you see in the film is the hut the legendary anthropologist was living in through all these years. Interestingly even Sigourney Weaver got completely involved with the gorillas, and most shots you see in the film are no special effects shots, but real live action footage with real gorillas. Weaver was in fact sitting right next to the silverback gorilla when he came running at her through the thick bushes of the forest. She really mingled with the gorillas in their natural habitat despite the problems, inconveniences and dangers. It is a remarkable woman she is playing, and she pays tribute to it with a remarkable, inspiring performance.

The disc Universal Home Video has released here is a clear winner. Not only is the film presented in a pristine form in its original theatrical 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio, Universal also took it upon themselves to create a high definition master to be able to present "Gorillas In The Mist" in a <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> transfer. Although the film print itself exhibits quite a bit of grain in a number of scenes, the general look of the transfer is great, vastly exceeding any other version of the film I had seen before. The image is well defined with plenty of detail and very good shadow reproduction, although the overall transfer is a tad soft. Colors are strong, well saturated and faithfully reproduced.

Fleshtones are generally faithfully rendered, but seem to display hints of red over-enhancement in a handful of scenes. This is not serious however, and it is sometimes even hard to tell whether it is a natural blush of the actors, or in fact a color over-saturation. Even in the dimmest environments the disc nicely reproduces details and creates strong, dark shadows, giving the film a very natural look. Compression artifacts are not existent on this disc, just as <$chroma,chroma noise> or color bleeding are nowhere to be seen, giving new life to the film’s stunning cinematography.

Although "Gorillas In The Mist" contains a very good music score, which is very sparingly used throughout the movie, the film is living on the engrossing ambient sounds it captures from the wildlife. The disc’s <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack will take you right into the damp forest with the primates. It creates a lively environment for the film that is subtle, yet highly effective. "Gorillas In The Mist" contains an English and a French soundtrack, as well as English captions. Strangely Spanish subtitles are missing from this release, but it also contains a short documentary about the making of the film. Despite its short length, it is quite interesting, as it shows under what strains this film has been shot, and how the filmmakers tried to ensure to maintain the authenticity required for such an important, topical movie.

There can be no doubt, "Gorillas In The Mist" is one of the most important films about any animal rights activist. Although Fossey might have given in to revenge, the result of her work speaks for itself. This passionate study of the affectionate sociologist, who gave up her real life in order to save the animals she admired and loved, is a film everyone should have seen at least once. Universal’s excellent release on DVD makes it even more worth the while, so make sure to take a good look at this disc. This true-life story is a perfect example how one woman’s will changed the fate of the gorillas through the passion that made her a legend.