Artisan // 1999 // 93 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // July 19th, 2000
A boy. A bear. An amazing adventure.
The tagline is pretty accurate in describing what the film Grizzly Falls is all about; a sweet, charming little adventure tale about boys and bears. It reminds me of the old Disney films about kids and nature. Though there are some parts of the story to stretch credibility to the breaking point and beyond, if you will forgive the intentional truth bending, it can be a fun little movie to make you smile. A very good performance by a young actor and five grizzlies, with some talented adult backup, makes for an interesting picture. Artisan has done a fine job with bringing a family film to DVD.
The film begins with veteran actor Richard Harris camping out with his grandkids, and throws them a scare by claiming a bear is out close by. Talking about bears leads him to tell an amazing bear story, which becomes our film with Harris narrating as he tells the story. The film is done in flashback as it supposedly happened to young Harry, or Richard Harris as a boy.
Quite a story it is. Harry's father was a famous explorer who traveled the world in pursuit of the biggest game animals; and now he is taking his son out to the Rocky Mountains with the goal of capturing a live grizzly bear. Set in the early part of the last century, it is a day of steam locomotives and still a time when there is wilderness teeming with game. When they do find a grizzly with her two cubs, things go awry and they believe the mother has fallen to her death. Taking the young cubs back with them, they find that the rumors of Mom's death have been greatly exaggerated, and she wants her cubs back. Since the cubs are not available, the mother snatches up young Harry by the neck of his coat and carries him off; apparently holding him for ransom against the release of her cubs.
This leads to a journey where the boy is at first forced to stay with the bear, and they grow to develop a real relationship. Meanwhile Harry's father Tyrone (played by F/X star Bryan Brown) and his trusted Indian friend Joshua are tracking the pair, while the less savory members of the expedition are taking the cubs back to civilization.
The scenery is breathtaking; it is hard to go wrong with putting the Canadian Rockies in your movie. The boy and the bear, and the dad and his friend travel across mountain streams, through forest, and along mountain ridgelines on a journey whose purpose will be revealed at the end. The cinematography is spectacular.
The real kudos have to go to 13 year old Daniel Clark in his first feature film. Not only must he act with a 1500 lb. grizzly without fear, but he does so with flair and a real earnest quality that I found eminently believable. The bears did their thing as well; looking alternately menacing or friendly depending on the scene. The adult actors were very good as well; with Tom Jackson playing the Indian guide Joshua in an understated but interesting way.
The tale is something most of the family can enjoy together, and is made in that spirit. While I thought the mild violence and scary bears would have been a bit much for my five year old, I would let a 9-year-old see it without reservation. As a somewhat jaded adult I enjoyed it as well.
Artisan hits the middle ground with this disc; somewhere between bare bones disc and a special edition. The picture looks great on a standard sized monitor, with a very good but non-anamorphic widescreen transfer. Colors are rich and natural, the scenery is rendered beautifully, and there is no artifacting or pixelation. Shadow detail, blacks, and fleshtones are accurate and well defined. I thought the film looked great.
Sound was very nice as well, with a Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack. My receiver didn't quite know what to make of it and decided on Pro-Logic, but my DVD player decoder made for a better, more accurate sound. Directional effects were fine and I didn't really notice a lack of bass response for the lack of a LFE channel. The orchestral score comes through loud and clear. Dialogue isn't quite up to the level of quality as the rest of the track, though most of it is clear and natural sounding. On occasion I had problems understanding a line that sounded just a bit muffled.
While there are no huge extras, what is there is very nice. Comprehensive cast and crew information and production notes, a trailer and two TV spots, and 8 minutes of silent footage of behind the scenes shooting of the bears in action are what we get. There is also a leaflet inside the case that gives interesting facts about grizzly bears.
I must confess that the story is somewhat corny, and a more cynical person would say contrived. Supposedly this bear knows who has her cubs, knows that by taking this boy she can even the score, and manages to keep the kid from running away on numerous occasions. Later the boy stays with her because he wants to and the movie becomes more charming and more believable. Of course one could say that the fact that the bear kept the boy alive at all stretched belief, but we wouldn't have a boy and bear movie if she'd eaten him. So the hardest part of the film is the bear is too smart to be believed in the story.
I have to keep complaining until the cows have come home, gone to market, and become my steak dinner, or alternately until Artisan looks like a very dead and beaten horse product, about their lack of subtitles. Not only can't the hard-of-hearing or deaf community enjoy their discs, but when a muffled line comes along I have no way except repeated listenings to try to make it out.
For the young at heart, or those with youngsters in the house, Grizzly Falls will make a fun and interesting diversion. I'm happy to recommend it at least as a rental, and for many a purchase. This is one disc I'm keeping.
Artisan is fined once again for lack of subtitles, but is commended for giving this little known family film decent treatment on DVD. The film itself is released after making me a bit nostalgic for boyhood days, and pleased with what it had to show me.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 93 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Bear Footage
* Production Notes
* Cast and Crew Info
* Trailer and TV spots
* Bear Facts