All time favourite wilderness movies (#2 in an occasional series…)

Ah, back to this campfire game. (Actually, I wish I was arguing about movies around a campfire, instead of spending this week moving apartments – such fun…)  Anyway, amongst friends and family, the choice this time has divided opinions. I really like it (it’s on your all time favourite list PlaidCamper – of course you like it), but I don’t know that this is strictly a wilderness movie, it’s perhaps more of an action survival flick, or even an eco-horror parable. I’ve seen it a couple of times, and I think it works at a number of levels. The movie? Oh yeah, (this is like a teaser trailer), the movie is The Grey (dir. Joe Carnahan, 2012). 

 Is something hiding in there?

Never mind all that stuff about it working at a number of levels, The Grey stands out for me because of the winter settings, and a fine performance from Liam Neeson. Much of the movie was shot near Smithers, BC, and, as in any good wilderness movie, the settings and weather behave like additional characters, providing greater drive to the narrative. Liam Neeson is suitably grizzled and gruff, entirely believable as a person who has reached the end of his emotional tether, not angry but exhausted, yet girding himself for a final effort to help his coworkers survive their predicament.

I mentioned above that the story could be read as an eco-horror tale. There was plenty of criticism aimed at the film makers for their depiction of wolves. Having survived a terrifying plane crash in a frozen wilderness, the characters are preyed on by a pack of enormous wolves who pick off survivors one by one in a series of gruesome attacks, hunting the humans as they look for a means of escape and a return to civilization. This is a familiar formula to horror/action movie fans, along the lines of the crew being preyed on in the original Alien movie, or the National Guard soldiers lost in the bayou in Southern Comfort. 

 Very grey…

The wolf depiction is unrealistic, particularly the sheer size of the creatures. Really they are designed to represent all that scares many city dwellers when they think about wilderness – wolves as the other or unknown. The movie makers have exaggerated the wolves to heighten audience fears; they’re not making a realistic documentary style statement about wolves. Treat the movie as humans vs. nature, in the tradition of Jaws or Grizzly (you can’t take that one too seriously!) and others in that vein, and you’ll be suitably entertained. Are the wolves simply nature taking revenge on resource greedy humanity? (The characters are oil riggers heading off for some down time away from the drill site). There are many deaths in the movie, and some are as a result of the environment – not all are down to the wolves – is this nature fighting back?

 Nature always wins…

I’ve always enjoyed stories with wolves, or about the mythology of wolves. As an impressionable teenager, I saw Neil Jordan’s movie The Company of Wolves. He was inspired by Angela Carter’s revisionist version of Little Red Riding Hood in her short story collection The Bloody Chamber: “Beware men whose eyebrows meet!” Mine do, although I don’t howl at the moon (often, unless having dealings with lawyers or mortgage brokers – I know, I know, I should let it go). The same impressionable teenager enjoyed The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, the original Wolfman with Lon Chaney, and reading Silver Bullet by Stephen King. Wild creatures lurking in dark places. I was a sensitive boy. So perhaps there is a very loose thread running from those earlier stories I enjoyed through to The Grey, which may explain why I am drawn to it beyond the wintry settings.

I also think that, for an out and out action and entertainment survival film, The Grey has a surprisingly philosophical thread; what does it mean to die, and is the manner of your death and how you accept it a reflection of your life? Is there a time to fight and a time to concede, and can that be graceful? In between the action and horror, there are moments of stillness, where the characters contemplate their mortality and chances of survival. The relatively thoughtful approach raises the movie above cliche and stereotype. 

 Be graceful

Yes, it’s possibly preposterous, macho, unrealistic, and somewhat formulaic – it’s all there for a fan of action: chases, escapes, tough dialogue, a plane crash, fights and confrontations aplenty, and yet…with the added dimensions of beautiful scenery, Neeson’s excellent performance, and an above average script with some depth, I think this is a little better than the usual fare.

I’ve yet to see a wolf in the wild. I’d dearly love to one day, from a respectful distance and with a better understanding of what they are as magnificent creatures in their proper context – and without my teenage impressions! 

So, there you have it – a fairly recent movie, unlike my previous choice (and I don’t think my mother has a crush on Liam Neeson – I’m not asking her – read the post about Jeremiah Johnson), but it’s in my list of favourites because I keep going back to it.

 Beautiful scenery

Have you seen The Grey? Is it as good as I think it is, or is it just another action movie? And what about the wolf depiction? Is it okay to get that wrong in the interests of telling a story? Do your eyebrows meet in the middle?

Thanks for reading, please feel free to comment or share a story (or movie recommendation), and keep your guy ropes secure.

Published by

plaidcamper

I am a would be outdoorsman - that is if I had more time, skills and knowledge. When I can, I love being outdoors, just camping, hiking, snowboarding, xc skiing, snowshoeing, paddling a canoe or trying something new. What I lack in ability, I make up for in enthusiasm and having a go. I'd never really survive for long out there in the wild, but I enjoy pretending I could if I had to...

19 thoughts on “All time favourite wilderness movies (#2 in an occasional series…)”

  1. I’ve never actually heard of “The Grey”. This seems strange as it I’m a pretty big movie buff and it is a fairly recent movie. Or I remember seeing it advertised and didn’t feel like it was something I’d be interested in seeing. Either way, after reading your post….I do believe I’m going to have to check it out.

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  2. As a novelist who writes about wolves in a somewhat realistic manner, I vowed not to watch The Grey because of the criticism its depictions of wolves received. I don’t want to support projects like that. But I’m glad you found it interesting. (My book is called Eye of the Wolf if you ever want to check it out!)

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  3. I don’t know if I’m going to see this movie or not, but you have written what amounts to an excellent review, and on that basis alone I would like to. The scenery is terrific and alluring, and the plot intrigues me, but I, too, would likely be critical of the wolf treatment. I’m a big fan of Barry Lopez’ Of Wolves and Men, and I’ve listened to wolves at Yellowstone, so I might be somewhat edgy when I see that aspect of the film. It does sound good, though, and thanks for that. Signed, He Whose Eyebrows Ne’er Meet.

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    1. The depiction of wolves is unrealistic, but if you can get around that, the movies has a few merits (I think!)
      Thanks for mentioning Barry Lopez – tried to download a library copy of Of Wolves and Men, but none available just now, but did get Crossing Open Ground, so I’ll start with that for some campfire reading the next couple weeks. It’ll keep me quiet.
      As ever, I appreciate your comments and the time you take here. May your eyebrows never meet, and have a great weekend!

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  4. I recently watched The Grey and loved the scenery. As an action movie, it did keep me a bit on edge but I would class it as an adult fairy tale. It’s quite a good movie, but doesn’t do the reputation of wolves any justice. However I can understand why it was over the top, considering the dramatic backdrop of such harsh but beautiful scenery. Great review.

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  5. Great review!

    It’s been a while since I’ve watched The Grey, but I felt that it was so dark (emotionally – at least) that it didn’t make my favorites list. That being said, based on your review, I’m determined to give it another shot. My last viewing was during a spectacular winter and I was too busy with school to get outside and enjoy the snow.

    I like that you identify the philosophical questions posed in this movie. I was impressed with Neeson’s character’s decisions and actions towards the end and couldn’t help but imagine how I would handle such challenges.

    Hopefully, one day we’ll get a chance to sit across a crackling campfire, maybe roasting a hobo dinner, and discussing the merits of various outdoor and wilderness movies!

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    1. That we should, and with a bottle or two of whatever’s good in your local beer scene!
      It is a dark and downbeat movie, no question, but I found it curiously uplifting, maybe because – as you point out – of some of the actions/choices and acceptance the Neeson character had to make or find. I’d be interested in what you think if you see it again…
      I hope you’re having a good weekend!

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  6. Great reviews of The Grey and Jeremiah Johnson. Thanks to my husband I have seen Jeremiah Johnson countless times and enjoyed it, but I have not seen The Grey. I love Liam Neeson’s movies and, while I believe after his Taken movies he can survive a gang of bad men, I think I am afraid to find out if he can survive a pack of wolves. The movies I enjoy about exploring the outdoors, The Way, The Trip and The Trip to Italy, are a far cry from these wilderness movies.

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    1. Liam’s performance is very good in The Grey!
      I love The Trip and The Trip to Italy, two very funny movies. I haven’t seen The Way, but will check it out.
      Thanks for reading and commenting, and I hope you are having a good weekend.

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  7. I’m going to give it a try. I suck at watching any movies, for some reason if the movie doesn’t capture my interest during the first few minutes I already have a book in my hands. But going to give The Grey a try.

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