Grey Owl Reviews
The long-shelved, eco-themed biopic of Archie Grey Owl, the noble charlatan who lived as a Native American and fought the cause of wild life, in particular the beaver, despite actually hailing from Hastings. Attenborough, clearly borrowing a stripe from his brother, shoots the Canadian wilderness with a languorous, sweeping nothingness, the film so drab you start miserably taking sides with urban development.
Brosnan, who is capable of much more away from 007, seems distracted and unsure, which may be because so little happens; just a spot of romance with Indian girl Anahareo (Galipeau), the inevitable build-up to the shock revelation, and the occasional beaver shot to punctuate the tedium. Admirable sentiments aside, this has value only for the severely sleep-deprived.
Issue 138 December 2000
Expectations & Reactions:
Grey Owl is the story of writer Archie Grey Owl, a man who is credited with being one of the first conservationists. After seeing the movie in the theater, I was familiar with the story. Knowing Richard Attenborough's reputation, this movie was going to be something to see when released on DVD. Not only is this a wonderful movie, but the DVD is one of the best I've ever seen. Columbia/Tristar really put forth an effort for a film that didn't do very well at the box office.
I was hoping for a good transfer and boy, did they deliver! The DVD is absolutely wonderful. The amount of extras on this DVD is only surpassed by double disc sets. It took a few days to go through all of them, not the usual five to ten minutes. Not only was the movie on the DVD, there were shorts from the original Grey Owl from the 1930's as well.
Look & Listen:
The anamorphic transfer of this movie is visually stunning. Filmed in Canada, the movie has many breathtaking shots of the beautiful landscapes. The greens are lush and vibrant and the reds are bold and brilliant. The flesh tones are very realistic. All of the colors saturate the screen and there weren't any artifacts that were detrimental to the movie. There wasn't any pixelation noticeable and there was very little graininess, too. Even though this is a period piece (early 1930's), the movie does not appear that way. The clothes are the old, but the scenery is wonderful to see.
The audio of the movie is Dolby Digital 5.1 and sounds wonderful. The sounds of the outdoors will permeate your speakers and make you feel as if you're in the wilderness with Grey Owl. George Fenton's musical score is quiet at times, with only a flute. The orchestration is magnificent and thunders through your speakers when dramatically necessary. There is an occasional orchestra flourish that will give your subwoofer a test. The sound of the drums of the Indians is very crisp and clear. The voices are centered and come through nicely.
Extras & Highlights:
There are a TON of extras on this DVD.
There are two commentary tracks. The first is by director Richard Attenborough. Sir Richard tells you almost everything you wanted to know about this movie and more. He talks about camera angles, the script, dialogue and many other facets of the production. The commentary is screen relevant and is an excellent commentary, one of the best I've heard on a DVD. The second commentary track is by Jake Eberts, the producer. Eberts penchant for making movies that are nature driven gives his views on the movie and his commentary dwells more on the natural (read nature) aspects and exigencies of making the movie. He also gives background into Archie Grey Owl.
There is a five minute featurette that takes a look behind the scenes of the making of the movie. There is a second featurette that is called On location with Grey Owl. This featurette is about nine minutes long. There are some behind the scenes interviews with members of the cast and crew.
Included is a production designs feature that includes many different storyboard shots inter cut with the footage from the movie. An interesting feature, it lasts six minutes and is backed by the Dolby 5.1 musical score from the movie. These storyboards were created by production designer Anthony Pratt.
The biographies and filmographies of the cast and crew are extremely extensive. There is the trailer for the movie included along with a teaser trailer, too. Also included on the DVD is a Grey Owl trivia game. There are twelve questions. I dare you to answer them all correctly on the first attempt! There is an acknowledgments section included, too.
There is a feature on the real Grey Owl. Included is a multi-page biography and there are two vintage short movies from 1934 and 1936. Both of these are fifteen minutes long. Although not restored, they are a pleasant sight and are another great addition to this fine DVD. Included in this section are some weblinks that can be found in the DVD-ROM section.
Menus & Interface:
The menus on this DVD are wonderful to see. They have a sepia tone background with a black typeface. They are themed to the movie and contain various portions of George Fenton's musical score along with various animated images from the film. In spots, there are three different animated parts from the movie playing at the same time. The menu transitions are a Grey Owl wiping across the screen. The scene selection menus are quite good, with animation playing for about thirty seconds. The overall look is fantastic and there is an ease of navigation throughout the menus. The play feature command is on the bottom of almost every menu and there are a lot of them!
ROM & Weblinks:
If the extras included on the DVD weren't enough, there is a lot of ROM content, too. Included are excerpts from the book The Making of Richard Attenborough's Grey Owl. Also included in the ROM content is a detailed biography of the real Grey Owl. There is the ability to read and print William Nicholson's screenplay for the movie. You are able to access the scenes in the movie directly from the screenplay. There are some weblinks on the DVD that are not the same as the ones in the extras. The DVD uses PCFriendly, which in this case was unfriendly to this computer user.
Storyline & Syllabus:
This is the story of Archie Grey Owl (Brosnan) and Pony (Gallipeau), a woman he meets in Canada. In 1932, Archie Grey Owl is a trapper and a guide. That is, until he meets Pony, a younger woman who changes his life and his lifestyle. Instead of hunting animals, he decides to protect them. Archie has a problem though. Someone thinks he is Archibald Belaney, a British man instead of a member of the First Nation (American Indian).
Cast & Crew:
Grey Owl stars Pierce Brosnan in the title role. Also starring in the movie is Annie Gallipeau as Pony. Those with supporting roles are Graham Greene, Renée Asherson, Stephanie Cole, Nathaniel Arcand, Stewart Bick, Chip Chiupka, John Dunn-Hill, David Fox, Saginaw Grant, Jimmy Herman, Gordon Masten, Charles Powell and Floyd Crow Westerman. The movie was directed by Lord Richard Attenborough with style and grace. The movie was produced by Jake Eberts and Richard Attenborough. The screenplay was written by William Nicholson and the original musical score was composed by George Fenton.
Conclusions & Afterthoughts:
The story of this movie is true. No names were changed to protect the innocent. With only one or two scenes that aren't true, this bio-pic is one that could mesmerize you. The movie isn't an action movie and there isn't any comedy, either. This is as close to being there as possible without having to change your clothes. Forget about Pierce Brosnan as James Bond for two hours. The movie is wonderfully acted and you will never see Pierce Brosnan do a better performance. If you have ever wondered about Archie Grey Owl and his life, this movie tells you almost everything you need to know.
This DVD is about as educational as a movie can be. The supplements are absolutely wonderful and are worth the time to watch. This is a DVD to be reckoned with. Grey Owl is the best DVD I've seen in the year 2000. I highly recommend this DVD. It's a learning experience. Even though he may have been a fraud, what Grey Owl did for the beaver and other animals is wonderful.
The true story of Archie Grey Owl (Brosnan), a fake Indian guide and writer who inspired the world with his authentic tales of wilderness life and his plea to protect forest life.
It sounds very honourable, but unfortunately Grey Owl's ecological stance does not ennoble his being a fake as director Richard Attenborough hopes. Grey Owl being a fake soils the message and turns his speeches from valid to sideshow. The film admits that people turned against his ideas after he was revealed and that it was only much later that we became more ecologically-minded. Which rather suggests that at best he wasted his time and at worst he held us up.
But the punch that knocks the film out cold is the inviolate television mentality that the hero cannot lie. Tricky, really, given the subject matter. Yet ignoring the history of the man, Attenborough has him being pushed into giving his first talk by his girlfriend Pony and only writing his books because a publisher pressures him.
And just to cap everything, Grey Owl only faked it all because he wanted to be loved by the mother and father who abandoned him. Sob.
Attenborough says he does not care whether Grey Owl was a fake or not but by never allowing the character to be the charlatan he was he removes the sole point of interest in the entire film.
"Grey Owl" has gone straight to video in America and Attenborough has been complaining loudly that it's because US film distributors won't buy a movie without sex and explosions. He may have a point but the film is not good enough and the protest feels embarrassing.
If you like cuddly animals or you fancy Pierce Brosnan, you're in luck - though note that some animals die and Brosnan has to deliver some very ill lines.
Perhaps the film works best if you came to it not knowing the truth that Grey Owl was a fake. Sorry about that.
24 frames per Second
That venerable old war-horse of British filmmaking, Sir Richard Attenborough, now in his mid seventies, has delivered some of the most memorable British movie moments of the past thirty years. The grandiose sweep of A Bridge Too Far (1977), the lyrical splendour of Gandhi (1982) and the intimate drama of Shadowlands (1994) to name only a few, have demonstrated Attenborough's command of large-scale storytelling that packs a defiantly emotional punch, epic stories related in an epic style. Alongside the big-bang and big-bucks blockbusters which Hollywood routinely trots out, Attenborough's emotional honesty and lyrical bent also hint of a director rooted in a less cynical age, an age when wearing the heart on the sleeve was more likely to be metaphorical than the latest hyper-real shock tactic from the newest Young Turk On The Block. In recent years, however, the defiantly emotive centre to Attenborough's work has become increasingly overshadowed by a sentimental, almost mawkish, romanticised edge, as in the dreadful Hemingway-inspired In Love and War (1995), a consummate example of Attenborough style over substance. Grey Owl (1999), unfortunately, doesn't reverse the trend.
Grey Owl is based, as so many of Attenborough's films are, on a celebrated true story. Set in 1930s Canada, the film is a biopic of Indian trapper Archie Grey Owl (Pierce Brosnan) and his attempts to preserve the traditional ways of life and homelands of the Native American Indian, the irony being that Grey Owl, defiantly championing the cause of an oppressed people, transpires to be a white Englishman called Archie S. Belaney living out a childhood fantasy, a relation of the very oppressors who are destroying the people he calls his brothers. Attenborough sets out to explore themes he has regularly visited elsewhere; the liberator fighting for the cause of the downtrodden; the ideas and conflicts of nationhood, of whether a man belongs to the place he is born or the place in which he feels most at home; the relationship of public persona and private personality--all themes variously developed in Gandhi, and Cry Freedom, and in different ways in Young Winston, A Bridge Too Far, and Chaplin.
Opening with Grey Owl plying his trade as an Indian guide for rich white businessmen on shooting holidays, the film charts his developing relationship with a Native Indian girl, Pony (Annie Galipeau), and his insistent desire to retreat into the wilderness - a desire half driven by his "Indian" roots, and also, of course, the need to escape the omnipresent danger of exposure as a fraud. Following marriage to Pony and the inevitable conflicts between life as a domesticated husband and a hard-nosed trapper, Archie develops a new career as conservationist and environmental evangelist, the "authentic" voice of the Wild West lecturing to the civilised masses, championing the preservation rather than exploitation of nature, a career which becomes so successful that it develops into a worldwide tour, extensive media coverage, and the inevitable discovery of his true history. Related within a flashback framework to lend the tale some tragic weight (we already know Archie's fate before the film begins), the film is photographed with predictable style by Attenborough, making full use of the glorious Canadian wilderness settings of lakes, forests and waterfalls, setting up the contrast between the natural world in which Archie feels at home and the urban landscapes he later visits and in which he really belongs.
But somehow Attenborough's heart doesn't seem to be in it: the conflicts between Pony's feminine sensibilities and Archie's masculine codes of survival (shooting deer, trapping beavers, curing hides etc.) are saccharine sweet (note the extensive screen time to two oh-so-cute beaver cubs which Pony adopts), while the various other dramatic oppositions, city and country, white man and Indian, nature and industry, are all rather predictable. Some enjoyable action sequences, including a tense crossing of an ice-covered lake and Archie's hunting expeditions, make up for lack of chemistry between the leads, while the best scene, when Archie returns to his Bournemouth home and revisits his ageing aunts, hints at Attenborough's usual dramatic assurance: but the normally involving quality of Attenborough's direction is strangely lacking, the result a rather superficial and unengaging romantic drama which never really gets canoeing. The unconvincing central pairing is partly to blame, as is the drowsy pace at which the film develops, but the real problem is Attenborough's attempt to make a flawed hero from his dubious central character. Grey Owl, though a champion of the Native American people, also made enormous amounts of money from his lecture tours, lied to his wife and assorted Indian tribes, and duped the public into supporting a cause on false pretexts, all aspects of his character which Attenborough never really broaches; and the desire to make him into a pioneering conservationist, and an Indian in spirit if not in fact (an Indian chief, of course, sees through Archie's guise but gives his blessing for learning how to live like an Indian) rings rather hollow. Meanwhile Brosnan, sporting a swarthy suntan and Indian pigtails stuck on to his Bond haircut, just doesn't cut it as an Indian, despite using all the moody posturing and frontier stoicism he can muster, and Annie Galipeau is left little room to manoeuvre beyond looking pretty and offended by turns. Attenborough delights in his themes of identity, nobility, spiritual purity, while the mucky heart of the matter - whether the real Archie Grey Owl was really an environmental pioneer or in truth a confidence trickster of the highest order - is studiously swept under the epic carpet.
Attenborough's attempt to make an epic is hindered by misguided casting and a muddled narrative. The film moves at a wounded deer's pace, and Attenborough's overweening eagerness to craft the portentous moment is tangible in almost every scene. Compared with the effortless assurance and impeccable performances of Gandhi and Shadowlands, Grey Owl is more of a lame duck.
Text by Oliver Berry
Few movies I have seen are as naturally majestic and wondrous as the true life story of Grey Owl. Perhaps itís the steady, artful direction of Richard Attenborough. Or maybe itís the dedicated presence of Pierce Brosnan in the title role. Whatever the reason, Grey Owl shows absolutely no sign of false storytelling or Hollywood fakery. The film glides gracefully from minute one, telling the passionate story of a strong-minded man who fought the complications of modern society during the 1930ís. And, with both Grey Owl fanatics and those unfamiliar with the legend, this true story is sure to hit home.
Just one wonderful thing about Grey Owl is how quickly and efficiently Brosnan makes us forget about James Bond. As we all know, the actor is just the latest debonair stud-muffin to fill 007ís shoes (heíll soon be appearing in his third Bond entry, The World is Not Enough). You never even expect Brosnan to crack a witty comeback like we have come to expect from his James Bond character. He looks dignified in long, braided hair and a feather headdress - as if he and the surrounding nature were always destined to interact.
Archie Grey Owl (full name - Archie Belaney) was really an Englishman living out a childhood fantasy: to be a red Indian and live in the wild. After traveling to Ontario to become a trapper and hunting guide, Belaney meets a Mohawk named Pony (Annie Galipeau), who is working as a waitress at a nearby lodge. With the help of a few adorable beaver kits, Pony helps Archie find his true bearings, allowing him to get in touch with his conservational side. Soon, Archie is the most famous red Indian in the world, delivering public speeches to make people aware of the nature that so many take for granted.
Iím unfamiliar with the story of Grey Owl, but after seeing the film, Iím inclined to learn more about this great man. I know, however, that the character of Belaney is not entirely explored in the film - but this represents only a minor problem. Brosnan delivers what could be his finest performance: he is reserved, naturally convincing and completely effective as he handles the morals that the real Grey Owl stood so strongly for. At first glance, the acting talents of Galipeau appear to be very doubtful. But the flow of the story helps accentuate her natural strengths, and gradually she begins lifting her share of the weight that had once been so one-sided.
Attenborough also brings the finest details to life in Archie and Ponyís relationship. Grey Owl is no emotional powerhouse; itís success lies within the fact that the environmental issues are covered so efficiently without ever being thoughtlessly overblown. The wonderful cinematography (by Roger Pratt) helps engross the viewer even more, as does the sweeping photography of tranquil lakes and beautiful green forest. Any Canadian nature or history buff is going to love what they find here.
Attenborough tries nothing fancy or gimmicky to help bring the legend to life. Instead, he opts for the most natural presentation you could possibly imagine. This is why Grey Owl succeeds as it does. This proves that sometimes, even the most straightforward approach can be the most effective. And, in the case of Archie Grey Owl, no special Hollywood tampering is needed. Searching through my Thesaurus under the word Ďbeautifulí, I find these synonyms: alluring, artistic, attractive, captivating. All of them could be used to describe Richard Attenboroughís Grey Owl.
Copyright © 1999, Jamey Hughton