2005 Certificate: 15

Synopsis

Werner Herzog's terrific film isn't so much a wildlife documentary as a psychological analysis of eccentric conservationist Timothy Treadwell. The failed actor turned amateur grizzly bear expert spent 13 summers in the Alaskan wilderness until he and his girlfriend were mauled to death in October 2003.

Director

  • Werner Herzog

Cast

  • Timothy Treadwell

  • Werner Herzog

Review

Friends of Timothy Treadwell date his disenchantment with the urban world to the time he lost out to Woody Harrelson for the role of the hick barman in Cheers.

Rejecting city life, he re-located to the Alaskan wilderness and declared himself environmental guardian of a colony of grizzly bears (who didn't really need guarding at all).

Treadwell - who terrifyingly resembles gay fashion guru Carson Kressley from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy - went onto become a minor celebrity with appearances on The Letterman Show.

He became even more famous in 2003 when he and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard were mauled to death by a bear (Treadwell's screams while in his death throes were recorded on camera - mercifully the lens cap was on).

Maverick director Werner "Fitzcarraldo" Herzog's mesmerising documentary trawls through 100 hours of Treadwell's footage to build a profile of an unhinged eccentric.

Billing and cooing at several hundred pounds of prime bear armed with tooth and claw, it appears Treadwell's insights into the wild were informed by a lost chapter of The Jungle Book.

One taciturn observer of the wacky ecologist's close contact with the grizzlies concluded the only reason they didn't attack him was because they thought he was "mentally retarded".

(this verdict isn't helped by a local coroner who carried out the autopsy on Treadwell appearing to have wandered in from a David Lynch movie).

Herzog cross-cuts his film with interviews with Treadwell's New Age buddies and ex-girlfriends. It's a good move...because Treadwell's anti-establishment, self-justifying whining can become a pain.

However, as Herzog points out, Treadwell's constant filming of his beloved bears throws up some stunning footage of the animals in the wild.

Ultimately, it was his naive sentimentalising of a natural - if photogenic - predator which did for him.

"I will not die of their paws and claws," he proclaims in a moment of arrogant bravado. Well, he did.

Tim Evans