Escape To Chimp Eden tastes a lot like Orangutan Island. Both shows deal with the rescue of captive abused primates. In both shows the animals are taken to a rehabilitation center where the goal is to teach the animals basic survival skills. The hope is that they might one day return to the wild and be able to survive and socialize with other wild primates. That’s about as far as the similarities go, however. In Orangutan Island, the show is very much about the apes themselves and their growing skills. In Chimp Eden, however, the spotlight is almost always on the incredibly melodramatic Eugene Cussons. This guy could give William Shatner lessons in overacting.
In the show’s opening credits, Cussons announces that he once intended to have a “normal” life. He considered being a software “king”, whatever that is, and settle into a 9-5 job. However he was so touched by images of abused and neglected chimps in captivity that he felt a calling to perform these self-described rescue “missions”. First of all, my wife is an IT person, and I don’t know who told Cussons it was a 9-5 job, because it most certainly is not. If it is, someone forgot to fill my wife’s employers in on that rule. You IT folks should feel just a tad insulted here. I was, and I’m not even an IT guy. Anyway, Cussons walks around treating these “missions” as if he were James Bond on some dangerous espionage case. At many points he turns to the camera and tells us how exhausted he is now. He looks mentally shot in almost every frame he’s in. The man’s a drama queen in the extreme. In one frame he has to lift the door on a transfer cage, and then let it drop. That’s all he has to do. When he’s done he sprawls out over the cage, wiping imaginary blood and sweat from his face, and tells us how he’s drained and exhausted. He refers to one place where he keeps a couple of chimps until he can get his paperwork in order as a “Chimp Safe House”, then he shows us how he has to let the owner know all about chimp care. Apparently this was the first case for that safe house. He details his paperwork efforts as if he were Indiana Jones trying to get to the Holy Grail. He has no respect for the humans he interacts with. He constantly condescends and yells at them, telling them “I’m giving the orders here”. If you have a low tolerance for this kind of showboating, “watch me suffer for my work” mentality, this show will wear thin for you before you really get to see the chimps in action at all.
In the first two episodes we are brought along for one of Cussons rescue “missions”. A chimp has gotten to be too much for her owner, and now Cussons is going to Angola to get her and bring her to his Chimp Eden. We see countless efforts of him trying to move both Josephine, the chimp, and two others he happens upon while at an Angola bazaar. In each case he spends hours trying one Abbott and Costello routine after another to transfer these chimps to transportation cages. In each case he finally decides to dart the chimps to put them asleep. We’re assured it won’t harm the animals, but we never figure out why each time he goes through the same crap before finally using the tranquilizer. When he rescues the other two chimps, he brings guards with automatic weapons to confiscate the animals. “Watch him, he’s dangerous” and “This is a very dangerous mission, right here” he tells us, all the while the owner’s telling them to take the chimps. Instead of getting a key from the owner he decides to use a long metal bar to bang the lock until it breaks. That wasn’t stressful on the watching chimps, was it? Finally in the third episode we get to the self described Chimp Eden and start to learn about the chimps there. Still Cussons must maintain the spotlight on himself inventing or at least cause one drama after another, always showing his tremendous suffering to the camera. I think we need a show where someone rescues Eugene Cussons and takes him to his own special Eden, where he can be medicated all day and bounce of the nice soft walls.
Escape To Chimp Eden is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Most of the footage is taken by handheld cameras, so the quality might not be quite as high as we’re starting to expect. Still, there is a lot to be said for the natural look of the transfer, which is appropriate to the kind of material it is. There’s a good amount of detail when you see the apes, and black levels work well for the black sheened primates Lighting is at times a problem, but overall this is a better than average transfer.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 is really nothing more than a spread out mono. That’s not really a problem when you consider the documentary style nature of the show. You can hear the dialog, and really there isn’t much else to it.
In one episode Cussons slips some valium to a couple of rowdy chimps. I would have much preferred someone slipped it to Cussons instead. I’ve watched a ton of these Animal Planet shows now, and I think I’ve gotten to be a good judge on the quality of these things. I loved watching the chimps, but I have to tell you I just can’t stand Eugene Cussons. He shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near these chimps, or the front of a camera. He’s an arrogant, self righteous turd, “and he has poor social skills, as well”.