Recently my wife and I rented a movie -- The Grey starring Liam Neeson, whom film critic Leonard Maltin says "validates every film by his mere presence."
Hmm. Sounds good. The story is about a bunch of oil riggers flying out of Alaska and the plane crashing in the northern wilderness. The six survivors start walking out (to where, isn't explained) and they are trailed by a pack of wolves which picks them off one at a time until Neeson is the last man standing (in his case, sitting), and presumably suffers the fate of the rest.
Various reviews range from "must-see movie of the month," to adjectives like "exhilarating, nail-biting, tense, engaging, amazing." Disregarding the extravagant publicity, this seemed a worthwhile movie on which to waste a couple hours on a Saturday night.
Ugh. The Grey is not only one of the worst movies I've seen (and I've seen a lot) but is just plain silly. And wrong. Yes, the northern bush is cold and the atmosphere in the movie is authentic, but the pack of rogue wolves -- all computer generated -- fit the old medieval stereotype of wolves as evil, wicked man-killers, stalking and terrifying.
Fine for a Dracula movie, or werewolf, vampire tale, but hardly for Liam Neeson.
Anyone with a smidgin of knowledge or experience with wolves will be upset by their depiction in The Grey. The late Ron Lawrence, who lived with wolves, understood them and wrote books about them would have had apoplexy.
I am not an expert on wolves, but I admire them ferociously.
My experience with them began around 1948. I was a young axe man with a topographic survey crew climbing the mountain ridges to make maps of the Kitimat region in B.C., before the aluminum company brought in its version of civilization.
Only Indians lived at Kitimat, and in three-man groups, each carrying 40 or 50 pounds on our backs, we'd climb the ridges and build stone cairns at high spots so surveyors could read the angles and gauge height and distances.
B.C. coastal range mountains are not high, but are steep and tough going, with devil's club thorns, and hugely dense bush until you reach around 3,000 feet which is above the timber line. Then hiking becomes easier. For three or four days we'd travel the ridge building six-foot cairns at high spots that could be read from other ridges, where we also built cairns.
On the day in question, we camped above the timber line, slept in a fly tent -- open at both ends, the three of us in individual sleeping bags beside one another like firewood. Our food was dried stuff, with concentrated things like pressed dates, tinned sockeye salmon, cheese and rolled oats and powdered milk.
I slept in the middle, and at dawn awoke and looked out. There, in a semi-circle maybe 30 feet away, were a dozen wolves, all sitting straight up, all staring at us with golden eyes, none of them the least intimidated. Or threatening.
As we stirred, they slowly melted away.
As a group and as individuals, we were a bit uneasy. We didn't have a rifle (unnecessary baggage) but we all carried axes. On investigation, there were large paw prints at the fly tent's opening, literally inches from our sleeping heads.
Clearly, during the night, one or more wolves stood over us, more curious than menacing. Paw and chuff marks around our dead fire indicated scrounging for food.
For the next three days, we were followed. Usually there was a wolf in sight during the day. We'd camp, build a fire, which inevitably would burn out as we slept, and at dawn we'd awake to the ring of wolves staring at us. Big, black and some grey.
When we came down to the town of Terrace, up the valley from Kitimat, the local paper was intrigued and wrote about our "adventure," speculating that these were Siberian wolves (whatever they are). Oddly, none of us had felt we were in danger -- not like the wolves Liam Neeson faced.
We figured the pack would need a deer or caribou every couple of days to stay well fed and fit -- as these wolves clearly were. They likely had never seen people this high before -- uncharted country -- and were curious about us.
It was wild country, grizzly bears and all, but it the only time that summer we encountered wolves. But their memory has remained for 60 years.