Never Cry Wolf (1983)

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This film is one that’s pretty much forgotten today except for one particular reason: it’s one of the films that caused Disney to make a separate label (Touchstone Pictures) to distribute more adult films with. But, is there any other reason to watch and/or like this film? Well, as a request from friend and fellow blogger, AJ of The Vintage Vestibule, I decided to finally watch this film. What did I think? Read on to find out!

And remember, SPOILERS AHEAD!

The movie begins with some text describing the background of the plot. This is a film based on a true story: an adaptation of the environmentalist, Farley Mowat’s autobiography of the same name. The numbers of caribou up north have been dwindling and many scientists think this is due to wolves killing the caribou, but nobody has ever witnessed this act.

So our scientist, Tyler, played by Charles Martin Smith, is sent to the Canadian arctic to find evidence of wolves killing caribou. Tyler is a young, naive, good-natured man with a desire to not only study the wolves, but to get back to nature and re-find his “man-ness”. There isn’t much dialogue in the movie, but most of the film features background narration by Tyler.

“I wonder whether or not I get paid the same for narrating like I would for actual dialogue?”

Tyler gets to an unpopulated area of the Canadian arctic by having a jovial bush pilot named Rosie, played by Brian Dennehy, fly him and his equipment there. Rosie then flies back to his town leaving Tyler to deal with the wilderness by himself.

“He’ll never make it! 2-3 days, tops!”

Now all alone, Tyler tries to set up all his equipment and make a mini base camp from where he would observe wolves. It’s pretty boring and uneventful as you can imagine for a guy on his own in that environment, but one day he notices some wolves heading towards him. He tries to hide from them underneath a canoe of his to protect himself, but then realizes that the wolves are there with an Inuit man. Happy to see someone else, Tyler tries to talk to the Inuit man, but the Inuit man sleds off with his wolves. Tyler runs behind him trying to catch up, but he faints before that happens. The Inuit man then goes back to pick up Tyler and transports both him and his equipment to another area of a forest nearby.

When Tyler regains consciousness, he sees the Inuit man named Ootek with him and is grateful to be alive. But, Ootek just ups and leaves one day before Tyler is well enough to talk to him properly and find out more. Anyway, Tyler remains in the forest until he can get his bearings. He battles the wilderness by doing things like sleeping amidst baby mice and almost dying after falling through some broken ice. He finally pitches a camp not far from where he is and then notices his first wild white wolf.

Tyler, the Original Wolfman?

Tyler spends the next few days observing the wolf, getting the wolf to notice him, marking his territory via pee around his camp so that the wolf knows and respects Tyler’s boundaries, etc. The wolf seems to accept these conditions and the two get along fine living next to each other without physically interacting. Tyler watches and studies the wolf’s every action and behavior closely.

Tyler later notices the wolf having a mate, two cubs, and a “brother”. Yet, Tyler never notices any caribou around for the wolves to eat…or any other big sources of food for that manner. All the wolves seem to eat are small creatures such as mice which are plentiful in their location. But, surely a big mammal can’t survive on only mice…can it? Well, Tyler sets to find this out. How? Well, he decides to eat nothing but mice himself for a while and see how that works out.

Excuse me, please, while I go vomit!

Some time after, Tyler receives two guests: Ootek and another younger Inuit named Mike. They’re played by Zachary Ittimangnaq and Samson Jorah. Mike speaks English and works as translator between Ootek and Tyler. Basically, Ootek though Tyler could use some company and help and Tyler happily accepts both! While they stay with Tyler, we learn more about the Inuits and their beliefs regarding wolves, creation, etc. We also learn more about Ootek and Mike: Ootek pretty much adopted Mike when he was young. And Mike is insecure about his looks as he has no teeth which affects his self-esteem and relationships with women. He’s also a poacher, but promises Tyler he’s not going to kill the wolves that they’re studying.

Would that face lie to you?

One day, Tyler finally sees a whole herd of caribou as they’re migrating. Some of the wolves do attack them, but only attack the sick, diseased ones. So, Tyler realizes that his theory is correct: the wolves don’t eat the caribou to survive; they just eat the sick, diseased ones to cull the herd.

Tyler also happens across the bush pilot, Rosie, who’s flown in nearby with a couple of people. Rosie has plans to utilize the resources of the wilderness there which has Tyler suspicious that he may be after the wolves. Rosie offers to take Tyler back home to civilization, but when Tyler notices that he can’t find the wolves he’s been studying, he assumes Rosie has something to do with it and starts shooting at Rosie’s plane. Rosie flies away thinking that the wilderness has gotten the best of Tyler.

“I called it: 2-3 days tops before he got wild fever!”

Tyler then sees Mike coming to him with brand new teeth and then realizes that it was Mike who killed the wolves! He sold their hides to get money so that he could get a new set of teeth. It’s here that Tyler realizes that Mike wasn’t really a bad guy nor was Rosie; everyone was just trying to survive and as the saying goes, it’s “survival of the fittest”. Our Tyler has become someone with more knowledge of the world compared to his naive self in the beginning of the film.

Turns out this face would lie to you…if push came to shove!

And that was Never Cry Wolf. It’s honestly a hard film to talk about. Let’s talk about the acting first. The acting was really well-done, for the most part. Charles Martin Smith’s narration provided an insight into the character that we saw on-screen. Brian Dennehy’s character was incredibly jolly with a side of “wanting more in life”. The actor who played Ootek was what we American audiences would have expected to see of an Inuit character. Only the actor who played Mike has me debating whether I thought his performance was good or not.

The cinematography was amazing as the film is done in a “docudrama” style with great shots of the landscape and the wolves. However, that’s also its problem: you feel like you’re watching a nature documentary…a very boring nature documentary. The film is slow-paced as one would expect from a documentary of this kind which makes it have a very low rewatch factor.

Beautiful shots, but they can’t overcome the film’s boring-ness!

When it comes down to it, there isn’t much to the story except watching Tyler observe wolves, trying to survive, and learn about the people he comes across. These mature and non-Disney topics in the film (along with male nudity from Tyler) make this movie not feel like a Disney film at all! I’m glad I saw this movie once, but I really don’t wanna watch it again for a long, long time! If it wasn’t remembered for its role in creating Touchstone Pictures, I’d have no problem if this film were completely forgotten today!

(You can click on the image below for an enlarged version of my rating sheet.)

So, the final score for this film is 21/35 = 60% (D-) !

The next review will be posted on March 27, 2017.

9 thoughts on “Never Cry Wolf (1983)

  1. Somehow, after reading this review, it strikes me as rather prophetic that this film was released during this period of time, since people’s attitudes towards wolves were starting to make a change for the better; consider, for example, the fact that wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone about 12 years after the movie was released, and y

    1. Intereting, I didn’t know that.

      I know when the original autobiography was written in the 60s, that changed the public’s views on wolves and how they behaved, etc. But, I didn’t know this movie also had an impact.

  2. This does sound like a very unusual Disney film! But an interesting concept that seems surprisingly non-judgmental in terms of learning to understand both animals and people.

    I wanted to say how much I’ve enjoyed learning about these films!

    1. It is unusual indeed, the film doesn’t feel like a “Disney” film AT ALL!

      And thank you for reading! It’s nice to know that people do take the time to read the reviews and it’s not just a waste of time. Glad you’re enjoying these films!

    1. What can I say except, “You’re Welcome!”? 😉

      Like I said, it’s really only famous for being one of the mature films that helped spark Disney’s decision to make Touchstone Pictures. Other than that, it’s pretty boring.

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