I don't mean to offend. It's probably going to happen anyway.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Movie Review

I tend not to write movie reviews.  There are very few movies that I feel I can contribute any meaningful opinion to, and I don't watch very many movies in any case.

However, I'm short on blogfodder at the moment, and The Grey brought up enough stuff to think about that I think I can talk about it.

Note. Here be spoilers.

As movie premises go, it's one of the basic setups, albeit the one probably least done in hollywood. Man (well, men) vs. Nature, with an undercurrent of Man vs. Self.  A plane carrying a bunch of petroleum company employees, including a wolf killer played by Liam Neeson, goes down in the middle of nowhere, cold edition. They must fight to survive against the elements, and the wolves.

I don't mind saying this. Folks, wolves scare me. A lot. They are highly intelligent, better suited by far to their environment than we are, and there are usually a bunch of them. Add in territorial behavior, hunger, and a set of powerful natural weapons, they are the sort of creature that really should scare people.  Many of the oldest nightmares I can remember focus around wolves and their supernatural counterpart, werewolves, and I'm wary even of their domesticated brethren in dogs.

That being said, I had a problem with the wolves being the Big Bad Problem in this movie. Yes, wolves are dangerous, but the assorted other things throughout, like exposure, hunger, and exhaustion would probably have been more dangerous than a single wolf pack. I felt both like too much emphasis was placed on the wolves as problems, and that they became more horror-movie monster than realistic wolves.

I don't claim to be a wildlife expert, and if I am wrong, someone please correct me, but it seems to me that a wild wolf with little to no experience with humans will be wary, especially with fire involved. Having them turn up the first night and immediately start hunting the humans (at one point pouncing directly onto a large fire) seems to be stretching things. The cinematics also treated them more as monsters, making heavy use of the jump scare and the extreme close up of bared teeth and matted fur.

For all that the wolves didn't act quite like wolves, the people at times were just criminally stupid. Neeson put in a very good performance as John Ottway, but the character just doesn't act in an intelligent manner at times. Despite improving weapons at various points in the movie, those weapons are notably absent in the subsequent scenes. He also discards his rifle, despite it's only visible fault being a broken stock. At one point he, supposedly something of a wolf-expert by experience, simply tries to run. First off, he should know he can't outrun a wolf. Second, he should know that wolves instinctively chase fleeing prey. Third, the best success they had at avoiding the wolves was by standing their ground, making noise, and trying to look big (coincidentally being standard advice should one come across a predator in the wild.)

I suppose it makes sense to end the review with the ending. Everyone else having already died, by assorted causes, though mostly act of wolf, Neeson gives up, and spends a few minutes going through the wallets they had collected from the dead, while sitting in the middle of the wolf den. For some unknown reason, the wolves hang back and let him have his introspective moment and get some last minute weaponry handy before attacking.  Awfully respectful of them, I must say. Then of course Ottway dies. (Well, implied. It cuts to black as the wolf attacks)

I think movies where man doesn't always win are artistically powerful and incredibly dissatisfying. It makes a wonderful point about how nature is not this beneficent mother Gaea, and how weak humans are in it's face, but it is profoundly frustrating to sit through two hours of gut-wrenching tension only to have the humans lose. Even the internal struggles Ottway is going through concerning his wife's death, and his relationship with his dead father don't seem to come to any resolution, with the same words he used before almost committing suicide at the beginning of the movie being his last words before being nommed by wolves. A couple of other characters go through some modicum of personal growth before they snuff it, but Ottway doesn't seem to, and he dies in a weird mix of despair and defiance. I walked away from the tv feeling like the only point of the last two hours had been to pump up adrenaline and make the point that nature kills.

The movie does an excellent job of building tension, but absolutely nothing to relieve it. I would not recommend this movie.

EDIT: One parting thought. Don't get stuck in the northern emptiness. It won't end well for you.

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