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Never Cry Wolf
Never Cry Wolf
Actors: Charles Martin Smith, Brian Dennehy, Zachary Ittimangnaq, Samson Jorah, Hugh Webster
Director: Carroll Ballard
Genres: Action & Adventure, Drama, Kids & Family
PG     2000     1hr 45min

Carroll Ballard's 1983 adaptation of Farley Mowat's autobiographical novel turns his life-changing experience studying the wolves in Canada's inhospitable North into a moving drama of one man's courage and discovery of nat...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Charles Martin Smith, Brian Dennehy, Zachary Ittimangnaq, Samson Jorah, Hugh Webster
Director: Carroll Ballard
Creators: Charles Martin Smith, Jack Couffer, Joseph Strick, Lewis M. Allen, Christina Luescher, Curtis Hanson, Eugene Corr, Farley Mowat, Ralph Furmaniak, Richard Kletter, Sam Hamm
Genres: Action & Adventure, Drama, Kids & Family
Sub-Genres: Action & Adventure, Drama, 7-9 Years, 10-12 Years, Adapted from Books, Family Films
Studio: Starz / Anchor Bay
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen,Widescreen,Letterboxed
DVD Release Date: 02/22/2000
Original Release Date: 10/07/1983
Theatrical Release Date: 10/07/1983
Release Year: 2000
Run Time: 1hr 45min
Screens: Color,Full Screen,Widescreen,Letterboxed
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 5
MPAA Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Languages: English
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Movie Reviews

Neglected masterpiece
John Grabowski | USA | 10/07/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The first time I saw Never Cry Wolf on the big screen in 1983 is a day I'll never forget. When the credits started rolling and I came back down to earth, I could not remember where I was or what I had done that day up to that point. The film had so overwhelmed me that everything else seemed unimportant, and the film seemed like the only reality. That had never happened before and it's never happened since.

It took me many years and many more viewings to figure out why this film is so extraordinary. For the first 45 minutes or so, Never Cry Wolf is content to be a conventional "Man and Nature" film, with the "natives" being set up in the "noble savage" archetype--they are the ideal, the "good guys," the righteous ones, while White man is evil (except for our hero Tyler). It's a structure that's been used many times, and it's fine. Of course all this is beautifully-filmed and hauntingly beautiful, but the film was still fairly conventional, albeit extremely well-done.

But then it unleashes a surprise, which turns the story on its head. Tyler is talking to Mike, his Inuit friend, one of the "noble" ones, one of the "good guys." Mike reveals that he would like to kill wolves, and explains why. The reasons sound so much like the reasons of "White" man.

This casual revelation stuns Tyler--and us too. The film shatters the "noble savage" archetype in a brief, economic scene. (The penultimate scene, also between Tyler and Mike, which could be considered as an extension of this scene, is equally brief and economical. The script is a masterpiece of understated writing, almost like cinematic haiku.) We are not hit on the head with this "message" and in fact it, along with the equally eloquent closing monologue (normally I hate VOs in a film--*show* me, don't *tell* me, but here it's essential and extremely well-done) are so subtle that many critics who praised this film actually did so while missing the point.

Never Cry Wolf takes the old archetype of civilized man being dropped into nature and finding it a "purer," "richer" existence, and stands it on its head. No doubt Tyler still finds it this way, but he also learns Darwin's oldest rule: survival of the fittest. At the end of the film Tyler tells us he has learned there are no heroes and no villains. Indeed we never find out who is responsible for the film's final slaughter, and that is one of its greatest strengths. This, and Bambi, are the only two Disney films ever made that embrace ambiguity as a dramatic element. For that reason I've always regarded these, and not "Fantasia," as Disney's riskiest--and greatest--motion pictures. So many movies make a lot of noise about how they are going to shake up our world. This one really does, and very quietly. Yet even many viewers never seem to latch onto this, seeing it as a wide-eyed call for conservation. It actually isn't.

As others have stated, the music/cinematography/acting/directing are all marvelous. The wolves are well-trained performers--I once had the pleasure of visiting the wildlife preserve where they were living out their "retired days." And the last shot--an ad lib between Charles Martin Smith and Zachary Ittimangnaq, is endearingly sweet, without being sappy in the least. This is film with sentiment, but it is not *sentimental.* It would never get made today. (Seems like I say that about most of my favorite films.)

And that's the reason I *suspect* Disney treats this film very shabbily. It was made the year before Michael Eisner took over the studio. Eisner likes Big Event films. Never Cry Wolf is a small film. Eisner likes fantasy. NCW, despite some fanciful moments done mostly for humorous effect, is grounded in reality. Eisner likes stars. NCW has none. Studio chiefs rarely tout the work of their predecessors--if anything, they have an investment in making such work look as poor as possible, so that they look better by contrast. Yet it's hard to deny that while Disney has made more popular films since then, it has never made something as, well, deep, or unique, or special. The studio today seems to have forgotten about the movie, or wants the world to. On the latest DVD release, except for a small legal notice on the disc itself, you'd be hard-pressed to find proof this is Disney's product at all. The transfer to DVD was farmed out. Even the Disney studio logo at the film's start has been completely lobbed off! (The logo of the company that transferred it to DVD replaces it.)

It's clear Disney wants nothing to do with this film today. Nothing in any of the studio's theme parks, collections of literature, or merchandizing even acknowledge its existence. The DVD has NO extras--not even a theatrical trailer. The Internet Movie Database lists a TV documentary, "The Making of Never Cry Wolf," that surely could have been included. Most upsetting of all, the DVD is *not* enhanced or anamorphic. Comparing it to my old VHS copy, it appears the DVD was take from the same print of the film, meaning they may have just dubbed the VHS version to DVD!

A travesty. Maybe someone could do a proper restoration of this great, neglected film. (You listening, Criterion?) It's great to have Never Cry Wolf on DVD, but it deserves better treatment from its studio than it's gotten so far. (You listening, Eisner?) Why Disney has virtually disowned this masterpiece baffles me.

(Note added later: as you may have noticed, NCW is now available in a number of different releases. At least one is "enhanced" for 16:9 TVs, so if you have an HDTV (and especially an HDMI DVD player), this is the way to go. The enhanced version features artwork on the cover from the original film, of Charles Martin Smith standing with a pair of binoculars. The image has a "hand tinted" fake color look to it--it's not the plain black and white image, nor is it the "cool" black cover of the howling wolf. The ASIN number is B0001I55Y2. --Or, just look on the video box and you'll see it says "Enhanced for 16:9 TVs." This is the way you want to go.

Now the bad news: although Disney finally released this in the enhanced picture format, with better resolution, and although they now actually put their name on the front of both the box and the film, they STILL used the same crappy print, which looks like a run-of-the-mill theater print with many a nick and scratch, and which was used all the way back for the original VHS release in the 80s! Unreal! Again there are no extras, not even a trailer. If there's any need to prove the Mouse rots, this is it.)"
Fine fictionalized documentary ahead of its time
Dennis Littrell | SoCal | 07/28/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This fictionalization of the Farley Mowat book about his Arctic adventures studying wolves is amazingly enough perhaps the most controversial film Disney studios ever made. How sad is that? The reasons for the controversy would seem minor: first, the movie is not entirely true to Mowat's book; two, it's lightly plotted; and three, a man is seen running around naked in the tundra. To which I say, so what? so what? and gee, how offensive. (Maybe they should have clothed the wolves.)The latter complaint is the major reason for all the ranting by some "reviewers." To them a Disney film showing human nakedness seems a sacrilege and they want their bowdlerized world returned to them, and they want Disney censured and made to promise never to do anything like that again! The complaint that there wasn't enough tension in the film is also off base since this is a contemplative, even spiritual film, not a slick thriller. People with sound-bite attention spans who need to mainline exploding cars and ripped flesh to keep them interested need not apply.The criticism that Director Carroll Ballard's film is not entirely true to the book is legitimate, but I would point out that movies are seldom if ever entirely true to their source material. A film is one kind of media with its particular demands while a book is another. It is impossible to completely translate a book into a movie. Something is always inevitably lost, but something is often gained. Here the cinematography and the beautiful musical score by Mark Isham are fine compensations.The acting by Charles Martin Smith as "Tyler" (Farley Mowat) and Brian Dennehy as Rosie, the exploitive redneck bushpilot, and Samason Jorah as Mike the compromised Inuit (who sells wolf skins for dentures) and especially Zachary Ittimangnaq as Ootek, the quiet, wise man of the north are also pluses. Note how compactly the main issues of the film are exemplified in these four characters. Indeed, what this film is about is the dying of a way of life, not just that of the wolves, but of the Inuit people themselves who are losing their land and their resources while their young people are being seduced away from what is real and true and time-honored for the glittering trinkets of the postmodern world. This is a story of impending loss and it is as melancholy as the cold autumn wind that blows across the tundra.What I think elevates this above most nature films is first the intense sense of what it would be like for a lower forty-eight kind of guy to survive in a most inhospitable wilderness, and second the witty presentation of some of the scenes. Ballard works hard to make sure we understand that it is cold, very cold and desolate and that there are dangers of exposure and weather and just plain loss of perspective that have killed many a would-be adventurer and might very well kill Tyler. I think it was entirely right that near the end of the film we get the sense that Tyler is going off the deep end emotionally, that the majestic and profoundly melancholy experience has been too much for him.Tyler begins as a greenhorn biologist dropped alone onto a frozen lake amid snow covered mountains rising in the distance so that we can see immediately how puny he is within this incredibly harsh vastness. The following scene when Ootek finds him and leaves him and he chases Ootek until he drops, and then Ootek saves him, gives him shelter, and leaves again without a word, was just beautiful. And the scenes with the "mice" and running naked among the caribou and teaching Ootek to juggle were delightful. The territorial marking scene was apt and witty and tastefully done. (At least, I don't think the wolves were offended.)This movie was not perfect, however. For one thing, those were not "mice" that Tyler found his tent infested with. I suspect they were lemmings posing for the cameras. Those who have seen the film about the making of this movie undoubtedly know what they were; please advise me if you do. Also the "interior" of Tyler's tent was way too big to fit into the tent as displayed. Also it would be important from a nutritional point of view for Tyler to eat the "mice" raw as the wolves did! (The actual creatures that Mowat ate I assume were mice.) If Tyler had to exist purely on roasted and boiled rodent for many months, he would encounter some nutritional deficiencies. Still, eating a diet of the whole, uncooked mouse would be sustaining whereas a diet of lean meat only would not. (Add blubber and internal organs for an all-meat diet to work.) Incidentally, the Inuit people get their vitamin C from blubber and the contents of the stomachs of the animals they kill.Where were the mosquitos and the biting flies that the tundra is infamous for?Since this movie appeared almost twenty years ago, the public image of the wolf has greatly improved and wolves have been reintroduced to Yellowstone Park. I think everybody in this fine production can take some credit for that."
Ironic that this beautifully moving film can't be found...
Nathan Campbell (n.campbell@motorol | Austin, Texas | 11/16/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I agree with everyone of the previous reviews. I too saw this film when I was very young, (only 11 years old) but I never forgot it. I've seen it several times since and it becomes more beautiful and important as I grow older. I've never been driven to search the web and the local movie stores for anything like I have in my frustrating search to aquire this film. Why is it I can find millions of copies of Judge Dread or The Beastmaster yet a film with such importants is allowed to virtually disappear? I've never seen scenery such as this before, or more noble truths displayed on film. Please Disney, put the mainstream insignificant eye-candy movies to rest, and allow all the people I know who have never even heard of this movie to view it's inspiring, intelligent and unforgettable story. Many of us will be waiting."
Disney's BEST non-animated feature!
K. Kramer | Dallas, TX United States | 02/25/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)

"When I visited for the first time, and discovered this movie was becoming available, I ordered it so fast I left skid marks on my credit card! It's always been a special movie for me; my folks took me to see it when I graduated Navy boot camp, during its original theatrical release in 1984. And I have managed to view it from time to time on a bad copy of a "Disney Channel free weekend" (all the "to subscribe, call now" captions getting in the way of all that natural beauty) I never hesitated to recommend this movie to anyone who will listen, because it has the rare ability to appeal to virtually anyone, a movie with true universal appeal. Sadly, many people have never heard of it, and come back glowing with wonder after viewing it, even with the Disney Channel copy. I cannot think of a film director who has managed to translate to screen existing popular literature into such a moving and masterful pieces of celluloid art; one of my other favorite movies is the 1979 version of The Black Stallion (wish it were available widescreen; is any body listening? )These are what movies are supposed to be like, and I never tire of watching either of these two American masterpieces, as they grow more wonderous and comfortable at the same time."