The researcher Tyler is assigned by his government to travel to the Arctic to study the wolves that they believe are responsible for the reduction of the caribou population. The reckless pilot Rosie takes him to the wilderness and he is left alone with his supply in an extremely cold spot. He is saved by the local Ootek that is traveling with his dog sledding. He builds a shelter for Tyler and organizes his supplies. Tyler finds two wolves that he calls George and Angeline and their three offspring and he examines his excrement to learn what they eat. Soon he discovers that the wolves eat only mice and Tyler decides to do the same to prove to the government that the wolves do not eat caribous. Ootek returns with his friend Mike that speaks English and translates what Ootek say. The trio stays together and Tyler learns that Mike is a hunter. Mike travels with Ootek by canoe to see a herd of caribou that is attacked by a pack of wolves. Tyler examines the bones and finds that the animal...Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Assignment: The Lupus Project. Purpose: To study Alaskan wolves and determine if they were destroying the vanishing caribou deer. The man they chose expected to confront danger, adventure, solitude, and, he hoped, the truth. But he never expected to embark upon a voyage of self-discovery. One that would ultimately transform his life. See more »
This fictionalization of the Farley Mowat book about his Arctic adventures studying wolves is amazingly enough perhaps the most controversial film Disney studios ever made. How sad is that? The reasons for the controversy would seem minor: first, the movie is not entirely true to Mowat's book; two, it's lightly plotted; and three, a man is seen running around naked in the tundra. To which I say, so what? so what? and gee, how offensive. (Maybe they should have clothed the wolves.)
The latter complaint is the major reason for all the ranting by some "reviewers." To them a Disney film showing human nakedness seems a sacrilege and they want their bowdlerized world returned to them, and they want Disney censured and made to promise never to do anything like that again! The complaint that there wasn't enough tension in the film is also off base since this is a contemplative, even spiritual film, not a slick thriller. People with sound-bite attention spans who need to mainline exploding cars and ripped flesh to keep them interested need not apply.
The criticism that Director Carroll Ballard's film is not entirely true to the book is legitimate, but I would point out that movies are seldom if ever entirely true to their source material. A film is one kind of media with its particular demands while a book is another. It is impossible to completely translate a book into a movie. Something is always inevitably lost, but something is often gained. Here the cinematography and the beautiful musical score by Mark Isham are fine compensations.
The acting by Charles Martin Smith as "Tyler" (Farley Mowat) and Brian Dennehy as Rosie, the exploitive redneck bushpilot, and Samason Jorah as Mike the compromised Inuit (who sells wolf skins for dentures) and especially Zachary Ittimangnaq as Ootek, the quiet, wise man of the north are also pluses. Note how compactly the main issues of the film are exemplified in these four characters. Indeed, what this film is about is the dying of a way of life, not just that of the wolves, but of the Inuit people themselves who are losing their land and their resources while their young people are being seduced away from what is real and true and time-honored for the glittering trinkets of the postmodern world. This is a story of impending loss and it is as melancholy as the cold autumn wind that blows across the tundra.
What I think elevates this above most nature films is first the intense sense of what it would be like for a lower forty-eight kind of guy to survive in a most inhospitable wilderness, and second the witty presentation of some of the scenes. Ballard works hard to make sure we understand that it is cold, very cold and desolate and that there are dangers of exposure and weather and just plain loss of perspective that have killed many a would-be adventurer and might very well kill Tyler. I think it was entirely right that near the end of the film we get the sense that Tyler is going off the deep end emotionally, that the majestic and profoundly melancholy experience has been too much for him.
Tyler begins as a greenhorn biologist dropped alone onto a frozen lake amid snow covered mountains rising in the distance so that we can see immediately how puny he is within this incredibly harsh vastness. The following scene when Ootek finds him and leaves him and he chases Ootek until he drops, and then Ootek saves him, gives him shelter, and leaves again without a word, was just beautiful. And the scenes with the "mice" and running naked among the caribou and teaching Ootek to juggle were delightful. The territorial marking scene was apt and witty and tastefully done. (At least, I don't think the wolves were offended.)
This movie was not perfect, however. For one thing, those were not "mice" that Tyler found his tent infested with. I suspect they were lemmings posing for the cameras. Those who have seen the film about the making of this movie undoubtedly know what they were; please advise me if you do. Also the "interior" of Tyler's tent was way too big to fit into the tent as displayed. Also it would be important from a nutritional point of view for Tyler to eat the "mice" raw as the wolves did! (The actual creatures that Mowat ate I assume were mice.) If Tyler had to exist purely on roasted and boiled rodent for many months, he would encounter some nutritional deficiencies. Still, eating a diet of the whole, uncooked mouse would be sustaining whereas a diet of lean meat only would not. (Add blubber and internal organs for an all-meat diet to work.) Incidentally, the Inuit people get their vitamin C from blubber and the contents of the stomachs of the animals they kill.
Where were the mosquitos and the biting flies that the tundra is infamous for?
Since this movie appeared almost twenty years ago, the public image of the wolf has greatly improved and wolves have been reintroduced to Yellowstone Park. I think everybody in this fine production can take some credit for that.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)
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