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BMZ Review: Bears
By Herb Lash


BMZ Review of BEARS
Written by: Herb Lash
Source: Big Movie Zone
Date: May 2001


Category: Reviews

Most humans avoid registering anywhere other than at the top of the food chain. But we are continually fascinated by those unlucky few who are lunched upon by passing predators; sharks, bears, alligators and other meat eaters always make big headlines and bad names for themselves when they manage an occasional human snack. The National Wildlife Federation and the Large Format filmmakers behind BEARS seek a less sensational approach to their subject.

The documentary aims to impart a greater appreciation, admiration and understanding of the black, grizzly and polar bears of North America. The bears are shown in their natural habitats doing what bears love to do best - foraging, eating, sleeping and lounging about. The always stunning Imax images do not disappoint, but the film's narrative is a strictly by-the-numbers affair that delivers few surprises. Bear lovers will find plenty to like here, but little that has not been seen before in the myriad of Discovery Channel type bear documentaries.

The film opens on a promising and visually engaging note - crisp and colorful graphics depict the dwindling bear habitats around the planet.  Accompanying these graphics are filmed portraits of a surprisingly varied number of bear species - most of them endangered. The film then quickly narrows its scope and focuses on the three types of bears still found in North America.

Biologist Chris Day has devoted her life to the study of grizzly (brown) bears in Alaska and she imparts a real sense of awe for the particular grizzlies she has come to know and love over the years. The grizzlies know Day and are comfortable around her, thus enabling the cameras to get up close and personal. We are transported from sweeping Alaskan vistas to a cramped black bear den in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana. A mother black bear teaches her two cubs how to get along in the wild and fatten up for the winter. These frolicking cubs are temporarily left behind as we head off to the otherworldly Arctic environs of Hudson Bay where polar bears swim and hunt in an underwater ballet. The filmmakers never linger long on any of the three species - a sort of revolving door narrative provides regular returns and departures from each habitat.

Man enters the story via our age-old tendency to mythologize the mighty bear. The Ursa constellations, Inuit crafted bear masks, intricately carved sculptures and even the Teddy Bear serve as evidence of mankind's reverence for the formidable creature. The film leaves the natural world and visits a soundstage where smoke billows and examples of Inuit craftwork are shown in close-up. This seemingly interesting avenue of investigation is cut short and becomes little more than a clever device meant to break up the circular brown bear to black bear to polar bear structure. The chance to delve into something new and interesting fades quickly as familiar postcard images and a standard voice over narrative reclaim hold of the film.

The film is beautiful to look at and for those who have never seen a Large Format film, it will surely stun. For those bear lovers and Large Format film lovers hoping for a nature film that attempts to push the genre forward - they will have to wait.

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