Grizzly Man (2005)
R1 - America - Lions Gate Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Jari Kovalainen (27th February 2006).
The Film

German born director/writer Werner Herzog has made his mark on the cinema world with a series of powerful movies. With the notoriously difficult actor Klaus Kinski he made the films like “Aguirre: The Wrath of God AKA Aguirre, der Zorn Gottes (1972)”, “Nosferatu the Vampyre AKA Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (1979)”, and “Fitzcarraldo (1982)” (which also spawned the documentary “Burden of Dreams (1982)”), which are just a few examples of his strength and visual eye as a director. Among the feature films he´s also a regarded documentary filmmaker, for which he has done several in his later career. “Grizzly Man” is one of those documentaries, which gathered several international awards and nominations, and caused plenty of discussion among the viewers. It´s a very mesmerizing and fresh film, leaving many questions in the air afterward; about life, nature, and those unknown mysteries of the human mind.

“Grizzly Man” tells a true story of an eccentric nature activist Timothy Treadwell, a man that spent 13 summers in the Alaskan Peninsula, living among the wild grizzly bears in nature, studying and observing them. His story came to an end in 2003, when he and his girlfriend at that time, Amie Huguenard got killed and partly eaten by one of the animals that he loved the most; a bear. Even if this story alone wouldn´t been interesting enough, Treadwell had shot over 100 minutes of video material during the last five years with the bears, making his own documentary and “video diary”. The material includes footage from the grizzly bears and wild nature, but it also gives a fascination look of Timothy Treadwell himself, revealing his inner thoughts, his character, and his motives. He speaks straight to the camera, being open and honest; sometimes very close to the bears, sometimes alone in his tent, sometimes during his walks in nature, but always full of energy, passion, and, well, with probably some manic depressive tendencies.

Herzog has created his documentary in a way that tells something between the lines, but doesn´t openly judge, nor moralize. He has mainly let Treadwell himself speak and perform (as you could also call it), giving certain tools to the viewer perhaps to understand his motives, making their own decisions about him. In many cases the footage will tell more than any narrator could do. There are some interview-segments included also. His friends, the pilot who eventually found the bodies, coroner, biologist, and also Treadwell´s parents (among a few others) have all something to say, which helps to understand the true nature of Timothy Treadwell, if we can ever truly know him (I have a feeling that nobody did really known him). At least we learn something about his origins and youth, which also involved some sadder stories like Treadwell losing his sport scholarship, which eventually let also to alcohol and drugs. His love and interest for the bears helped him to overcome his addictions, but did he just change one addiction to another? Werner Herzog himself does the narration in his subtle way, giving some of his thoughts but leaving the rest to Treadwell himself and the people who knew him better. There are a few scenes where Herzog gives opinions more candidly, making his narration very powerful and essential to the film.

What makes the documentary truly effective is the way that it reveals more and more about Treadwell as it progresses and creates a wider picture on the issues surrounding him. When it starts as a story about the wildlife activist who lived among the bears - finally losing his life tragically, it raises some bigger questions when the documentary evolves, questions bigger than Treadwell. There are some people in the documentary who criticize Treadwell for going to the world that is best to leave alone, since there are some cruel laws in nature, and in that world there´s no place for a man. In these certain places people can visit and study, but you can never be truly a part of it. There, every man can be an intruder. Treadwell considered himself as a “protector of the bears”, their friend. He wanted to be one of them and thought he would achieve this eventually. His ultimate goal was to “become a bear”, a thing that probably sounds absurd to normal people, but not to Treadwell. Like Herzog points out in the documentary, Treadwell´s “sentimentalized view” shadowed some of the realities that occur in wild nature, the thing that probably was the biggest contradiction about his views. How can you be part of nature, if you´re not willing to understand some of its laws? During the documentary some of the sad facts of Timothy Treadwell are starting to show, and eventually Treadwell seems to have lost some of his connections to the real world. At least this is how I saw it.

Even though Treadwell died with his girlfriend (documentary doesn´t know much about her, so she is portrayed a rather mysterious person), most of his journeys he did alone. It´s in some ways ironic, that his only real connection to the real world was his video camera, which became his best friend. To his camera he confesses things, reveals his inner thoughts, shows his love, passion, and rage. To the camera he´s showing his thorough methods when he´s doing his “documentary”, his love for nature, and his hate for the people who intrudes to the “Grizzly Maze” (name that he gave to the area where he was living). In the end those “intruders” included basically all the other people coming to the area, another thing where Treadwell was losing his grip to reality. I´m not sure how much material there was about the actual Grizzlies in the countless footage he shot during the years, but in the documentary the footage usually includes Treadwell himself in one way or another, e.g. speaking to the camera with the bear in his background, sometimes even touching them briefly (the thing that is actually forbidden in the area for the obvious reasons). There are a few memorable moments though, and one includes two bears fighting each other, real nature footage. After the scene we see Treadwell talking to the camera, shouting his love for these two animals. Another revealing scene is near the end, where Treadwell curses the “national park people”, clearly showing his deep frustration and anger that is usually hidden. These are just a few examples of the footage that you see in the documentary. Composer Richard Thompson has done a moving and effective score for the film, where his electric guitar is the backbone, giving that last icing to the cake.

The events that lead to death of Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard are captured on the video camera. Not in the visual way, but the last sounds and screams were recorded on the camera, but the lens hood was on, so there was no picture. Herzog decision is not to play the audio in the documentary, but instead the coroner tells something about it, and there´s a moving scene, where Herzog listens to the tape, clearly being shocked. This decision has caused some stir, and some people are clearly disappointed that the tape is not heard, but I think the decision was justified. There should be some courtesy for the dead, and hearing the last screams of people who are getting killed is not something that would´ve made the documentary any better. More shocking perhaps, maybe more controversial, but not better.

The story of the “Grizzly Man” needed to be told. Not only to tell the world about his work and love for the bears (and foxes, as you can see in the documentary), but also about his strange courage to be what he wanted to be. After all, he spend basically 13 summers with the Grizzlies. It also tells a sad story of a man that lost a certain essential connection to the real world, and made the wild nature and the grizzlies an adventure world for him, the thing which clearly wasn´t reality. And like it´s said in the film, he crossed some invisible line while doing so.

Video

“Lions Gate” have provided a pretty good Anamorphic 1.78:1 -transfer. Like often with documentaries, they may include various materials from different eras and formats, and that´s also the case here to some degree. The material shot on video by Timothy Treadwell has its limitations, so there are softness and some occasional “pumping” of video levels, but for the defense of Treadwell is has to be said that the material is surprisingly good, probably due the fact that he was so meticulous with his work. I also assume that the video material was originally 4:3, but the possible matting doesn´t look bad here. The rest of the material, like interviews, are not shot with “perfection” in mind or controlled places like in the studio, and they´re usually shot in various places where these people live and work. It gives the feeling that the viewer is really there in the locations and with Herzog and his interviewers, who are essential part of telling the story of Treadwell. The video material from Treadwell blends in nicely for the rest of the footage, and the overall result is very satisfactory for the documentary like this one. Colours and black levels are quite strong, even in the video footage.

Do note, that the DVD includes a disclaimer stating; “the film has been changed from its theatrical version”. This refers to the one scene at the start of the film, which in the original theatrical screening included a segment from CBS´ “Late Show with David Letterman”, but what is now replaced by NBC news segment, probably due to licensing issues. Original version (with “F-words” beeped out) has been also shown on “Discovery Channel”. The film runs 104:02 minutes (NTSC), and “dual layer” disc is coded “R1”. There are 27 chapters.

Audio

The disc includes one audio track, English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround. The track does its job well, adding music and some directional sounds (like buzzing insects, rain, and other sounds of nature) to the rear channels. Obviously discrete 5.1 -track would´ve been better and probably a bit more of a dynamic choice, but the audio track is sufficient for this documentary, in most parts clear and well balanced. There are some minor issues here and there when it comes to the video footage of Treadwell, since sometimes Treadwell starts suddenly shouting or there´s some other interference. Still, the audio on the “video footage” is also in a pretty good level. English and Spanish subtitles, and English Closed Captions are also included (English subtitles are not listed in the back cover, only “Closed Captions”).

Extras

The main extra on the disc is “In The Edges: The Grizzly Man Session” -documentary, which runs 53:47 minutes. It tells about the recording sessions of the film´s soundtrack. Plenty of music was improvised during the recording period in two days, where Richard Thompson leads the group of musicians with his electric guitar. This melancholy guitar is the heart and soul of the soundtrack, and also an essential part to the whole “Grizzly Man” -documentary. Herzog tells some of his views of the music in the film, and also about music in filmmaking generally. Footage of the documentary mainly includes material from the recording sessions, where the documentary gives time for the beautiful music itself, letting it play. Very interesting is to see how the cues e.g. for the “bear fight”-scene are being recorded. This is a very good extra for all the people who like film scores, and includes some great and often a bit sad music. This is also presented in 1.78:1 (this time in non-Anamorphic), and with 2.0 Surround-track.

The films theatrical trailer (2:29 min) is also included, as well as 15:51 minutes worth of bonus trailers, which include “Crash”, “Rize”, “Happy Endings”, “Weeds”, “Beyond the Sea”, “Danny Deck Chair”, “Lord of War”, and “Akeelah and the Bee”. There are no subtitles for the extras.

Overall

Werner Herzog has created a highly interesting portrait of Timothy Treadwell, a man that dedicated his life to the Grizzly bears, creating an own world for him and them, at least in his own mind. R1 -release includes a good transfer and audio was sufficient, even when 5.1-track would´ve been nice to have (since the 2.0-track is already “Surround”). Long segment of the music sessions in the extra-features is very good, but I can´t help to think that a proper “Making of”-documentary of “Grizzly Man” would´ve also been essential, or even an audio commentary.

This DVD is available at Loaded247, the UK based supplier of R1-releases.

The Film: Video: Audio: Extras: Overall:

 


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