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Grizzly Man Review

By Shawn McKenzie 08/12/2005

Nature documentaries by in large don’t interest me.  You can watch them at any time on the Discovery Channel or Animal Planet.  The thing that makes Grizzly Man unique is the exploration of a man who truly loved nature and bears…until it killed him.

Timothy Treadwell was a man who really loved animals, but especially loved grizzly bears.  For thirteen summers, he flew to Alaska’s Katmai National Park and stayed with the bears.  He shot over a hundred hours of footage in the last five years, and over half of the movie is taken from that footage.  Pilot and former rodeo rider Willy Fulton would fly him to the park and leave him there for the summer, where he would trek through a part of the forest called the Grizzly Maze.  He was mostly alone in the forest, but for the last two summers, his girlfriend, Amie Huguenard, accompanied him.  There is barely any footage of her in the movie, and it was noted that she was actually afraid of the bears (she must have really loved him, because I couldn’t have lived out there with bears.)  On October 6, 2003, Treadwell and Huguenard were killed and eaten by a hungry bear.  Fulton discovered the rib cages of what appeared to be human beings.  A member of the retrieval team named Sam Egli thinks that Treadwell got what he deserved, since it’s not good to fool with Mother Nature.  Marnie and Marc Gaede, an ecologist couple, agree that Treadwell was flirting with death.  An actor friend of his named Warren Queeney thought he was being crazy.

Treadwell was born Timothy Dexter in New York to Val and Carol Dexter.  He was an athletic swimmer, but then drugs and drinking caught up with him.  He moved to Los Angeles to become an actor, and he got a chance to audition for the new bartender part on NBC’s “Cheers.”  According to his parents, he came in second behind Woody Harrelson for the part, which devastated him.  It wasn’t until he discovered his love for Alaska that he managed to cure his alcoholism.  When he wasn’t living up in Alaska, he would make appearances on several talk shows and give speeches to kids about ecological issues.  His appearances in front of kids were done for free, but he was also trying to become a famous professional nature filmmaker with his footage shot in the park.

Writer/director Werner Herzog filmed the footage that wasn’t shot by Treadwell in the movie.  He also narrates the film, and he tries to delve into the mind of Treadwell to discover what made him want to risk his life for thirteen summers.  Treadwell had turned the camera on at the moment he was killed by the bear who eventually did him in, but the lens cap was on, so there is no footage.  There isn’t even any sound from it either, because Herzog didn’t want to make a snuff film.  He does shoot himself listening to the audio on a pair of headphones with his back to the camera, but he tells Jewel Palovak, Treadwell’s friend, ex-lover, and employee for Treadwell’s bear habitat organization called Grizzly People that she should never listen to the audio from the tape ever.  Only Franc G. Fallico, the medical examiner who went over the evidence of the bear attack, describes in vivid detail about what happened.

I coincidentally watched a “Primetime Live” segment on ABC right before I was going to write this review, which explored the life of Treadwell.  Near the end of his life, it seemed that he preferred bears to people, and what he thought was cruelty to bears was actually nothing all that bad.  In the movie, it shows what Treadwell thinks are poachers meaning to do the bears harm.  In the “Primetime” segment, it showed the same footage, but it explained that they weren’t really poachers…they were just photographers (Treadwell thought that they meant to do the bears harm when they threw rocks at them, but that is the recommended way to keep a bear at a distance.)  He would rant and rave on camera about how badly the Parks Service wasn’t doing their job stopping poachers, which would make this one of the only nature documentaries ever to receive the R-rating based mainly on language.

Grizzly Man wasn’t really just a nature documentary though.  It was mostly about the study of the life of a unique individual.  Sure…it did include amazing footage of nature, including a thrilling bear fight, but Treadwell was not a trained filmmaker.  That is evident in the shaky way he sometimes held the camera (if you are susceptible to motion sickness, you may want to avoid this movie.)  You can compare this movie to 1999’s The Blair Witch Project in two ways:  shaky camera work and a death in the end (though, as noted above, the death isn’t included onscreen.  The only thing disgusting in the movie is the photos taken of the innards of the bear that killed Treadwell after the hunters had killed the bear.)  While I’m still not a fan of nature documentaries, this one interested me a little more than the average doc…and Treadwell’s R-rated language would never appear on Animal Planet!


Get the book written by Mike Lapinski that explores the life and death of Timothy Treadwell:

Get the original book written by Timothy Treadwell and Jewel Palovak that explored his own adventures:

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