film reel image

film reel image

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Bears 2014 * * * Stars

Directors: Alastair Fothergill, Keith Scholey
Year: 2014
Rated G
Rating: * * * Stars
Cast: John C. Reilly

Bears as long-nailed mammals, have always been portrayed to be deadly and menacing in countless movies (1997's The Edge comes to mind). In 2014's Bears (the cuddly documentary I'm about to review), they instead come across as harmless and adorable. For 78 minutes, you become interested and involved in their sort of humorous way of life. So by that token, this is a film that pretty much anyone can enjoy. Kids will eat it up the most even though the proceedings hint towards a replica of a classroom film strip. As for the way it was shot, I gotta say it's impressive. The director or directors probably gathered a ton of footage, had to endure massive amounts of editing (to come up with a cohesive story line), and then when everything was cut, asked narrator John C. Reilly to step in and do his thing. Oh, and I'm thinking that everyone involved also had to worry about their own safety. Bears are still for lack of a better word, utterly dangerous if you get too close.

Featuring a dandy of an opening shot (of a bear mother giving birth to her wide-eyed kin), helmed by not one but two directors (Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey), having vague similarities to March of the Penguins, and distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures, Bears follows female grizzly bear Sky taking her newly born cubs to trek across Alaska's Katmai National Park. It's summer time and Sky's family along with every other group of bears, is searching for food (the parable of these caniforms as consumers is really sledgehammered here). Along the way, Sky has to use her maternal instincts to protect her two young ones from avalanches (in early April), antagonistic food mongers (portrayed by another bear named Chinook and a seething wolf named Tikanni), and the threat of not being ready for winter hibernation. The film is G rated but has a few attack scenes between the large mammals. These shortened scenes aren't too intense and shouldn't dissuade a young child from taken in a viewing.

Things I didn't know about the bear species before seeing this documentary: 1. they make friends with birds like the raven when gathering their food supply (who knew?). 2. bears have a sense a smell that is simply off the charts. They put bloodhounds to shame. 3. bears are for some reason, frightened by wolves even though they are twice their size. 4. call me naive but I never knew that bears liked salmon so darn much. The mother bear has to eat enough of this fish to fatten up for her cubs (so they can make it through the hibernation period mentioned earlier). The only other foods bears eat are I guess, grass and mussels. For them, these forms of nourishment are sooooo boring!

Interestingly fun factoids aside, Bears is without a doubt, a great looking flick. Channeling a little residue a la Terrence Malick, a lot of its shots are slow motion close-ups of said species, a couple of impressive time-lapse sequences, and views of breathtaking cinematography via the wide open, Alaskan wilderness. The film score is a mixture of country, contemporary, and pop rock music genres (the familiar "Home" by Philip Phillips is featured). And said score evokes in equal measures, feelings of happiness, despair, and goofy playfulness. The only human element pertaining to Bears is the narration by veteran actor John C. Reilly. It's a hoot and a real breath of fresh air. He plays to the audience in a happy-go-lucky sort of way while at times, speaking for the furry guys themselves (it's as if he's doing their voices if they could only speak real English). Overall, his narrative technique is perfect and let's face it, we could all use a break from the more serious Morgan Freeman.

In conclusion, this spring of 2014 release with its fair share of educational fodder, does sort of wear out its welcome at the 1 hour mark. However, it's a beautifully shot, delightfully passive documentary done in the classic documentary style (as with most docudramas, the slow motion nature phenomenas are in abundance here). Bears will at certain points, warm the cockles of your heart. Result: a "bearably" good 3 stars.

Written by Jesse Burleson

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