Grizzly Man
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84 of 87 people found the following review helpful
on February 22, 2006
Before I saw Werner Herzog's documentary, I couldn't understand why the commentary on Timothy Treadwell's grizzly bear project was so negative. After all, he put himself in danger to protect and photograph these creatures whom he obviously loved to obsession. Others will certainly have different reactions, but the film certainly changed my mind about Treadwell. Unfortunately, he comes across, at least as I saw him, as immature, paranoid, self-centered (his girlfriend Amie hardly even figures in his many hours of filming), somewhat psychotic and lacking even the basics of any scientific standards for research. As the movie progresses, skillful editing brings out what I believe to be Herzog's justifiably critical attitude. Treadwell's rants against the Park Service, non-existent poachers (the grizzlys actually have to be "trimmed" down each year), a large "enemies" list, and worst of all, at least aesthically, his romantic sentimentalization of the bears, and giving them cutsey names, reveals an advanced case of severe anthropomorphism. Herzog lets Treadwell indict himself on all these counts, which he does only too well. The project ended in two tragic human deaths, as well as two bears who also had to be shot. However, the film is not structured as simply an indictment of Treadwell, as vestiges of Herzog's admiration for the man do come through now and again. I think the merits of the film rest largely on this openness and reluctance to simply condemn Treadwell, as well as the well-justified reluctance of Herzog to sensationalize the story (for instance by not playing the tape recording of the mauling of Treadwell and his girlfriend). The film can lead reasonable people to many different interpretations of Treadwell's behavior, some very different than mine, and I think this nuanced ambiguity and refusal to make snap judgments is at the heart of why I think this is a very important film.
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93 of 102 people found the following review helpful
on February 26, 2006
I liked this movie but I have to agree with all the reviews (who rate it both good and bad) that say Timothy Treadwell is emotionally and mentally ill. It's true: the most amazing thing about his story was that he wasn't killed and eaten any sooner.

I sympathize with the family and friends for their loss, but I can't gloss over what a crazy, grandstanding and ultimately suicidal "mission" this was. He wasn't exactly Diane Fossey, who literally fought poachers off the mountain gorillas in Rwanda--these bears were in a state park.

Absolutely NOTHING in science or life tells Treadway or anyone else that it's safe to live with bears. He ventures into the wild and lives in a constant state of delusion, even as the bears kill and eat each other, his cute little foxes, the adorable little cubs. As Herzog points out, there's nothing to support Treadway's fantasy world of harmony in the bloody Alaskan wilderness.

GRIZZLY MAN is a fascinating story but I have to agree with the reviews which compare the interviews with BEST IN SHOW or A MIGHTY WIND.

(If you were fascinated by this story, check out the book INTO THE WILD, about another young man who disappeared and died in the Alaskan bush in an attempt to live off the land. GORILLAS IN THE MIST is both a book and a movie about Diane Fossey, another controversial person who fought on behalf of endangered animals).
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2006
After reading some remarkable reviews of Grizzly Man and catching much of it on Discovery Channel, I was very interested in seeing the DVD. The film first appears to be a documentary about the misguided naturalist Timothy Treadwell who befriended grizzly bears in Alaska and was eaten alive in 2003 by one. As a local native points out, what Treadwell did was irresponsible in that he crossed the line that had been drawn 7,000 years ago between humans and grizzlies - that is to avoid one another and maintain a respect for the danger one another poses. Treadwell also claimed that he was protecting the bears but his death resulted in the doom of the bear that killed him. When Herzog samples the tape of Treadwell's last moments (along with his girlfriend's), Herzog advises one of Treadwell's surviving ex-girlfriends to destroy the tape and never view the coroner's photographic evidence - just the coroner's descriptions are enough to chill one to the bone.

The director, Werner Herzog demonstrates again what a master filmmaker he truly is. Herzog also created the film that Treadwell never made by editing hundreds of hours of footage into a film that tells the story Treadwell would have himself made. But Herzog does not allow the audience to be seduced into the sentimentalism that caused Treadwell's death - Herzog indeed interrupts Treadwell's narration and explicitly disagrees with the notion that animals and humans can live in a harmonious relationship and indeed shows the fact that the worlds of humans and bears are separate and there is little room for the intersection of the two.

The extended on the DVD is even more remarkable as Herzog demonstrates his depth of understanding as the soundtrack is scored. One of the engineers asks whether he wants the music as background music and Herzog declares that he never has background music in his films. Herzog coaxes out a sound quality that Treadwell would certainly have been proud of - a haunting and poignant score. Yet again, Herzog won't allow us to be lulled into fantasy - when Treadwell is seen wading into a river with a large grizzly Herzog tells his cellist that he wants a strange sound - it is really a perverse sound that shows the perversity of a man reaching out to pet a grizzly bear. And in other scenes, such as one where two grizzlies are fighting - or one where a cub dismembered by an adult bear the music takes on an atonal quality. Indeed we see a pianist applying sheet metal screws and paperclips to his piano strings to produce a sound that reveals that nature is not 'harmonious'.

By the end of the film Treadwell can be seen as both a passionate man and one who is deeply troubled and a victim of his own imagination. Herzog allows us to feel sympathy and pathos for this tragic figure - a man who knew the fate that awaited him but couldn't resist.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2006
Herzog is amazing and when he decides to do something real by pulling off another documentary, like his award winning 'My Best Fiend', you just know it is going to be something worth seeing. Here Herzog edits from over 100 hours of video footage the story of Timothy Treadwell's risky, and ultimately deadly, self-sponsored grizzly bear research in the wilderness of the Alaska Peninsula. It must be seen to be believed, could be one of the best films of 2005/2006, and certainly raises a hair or two, including the final moments where the ecentric Treadmill probably filmed himself with his murderer. Just watch this and be amazed at the stunning one on one bear footage never seen in the wild this way before, coupled with the local coroner describing how Timothy recorded himself on camera, telling his girlfriend to run away while screaming as the bear tore his skull open. Shockingly profound and at times seriously touching, this is wholly original and confusingly stunning. You have never seen anything like it before, nor will you again.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2006
Unfortunately, this movie is brought down by many one-star reviews that are attacks on Timothy Treadwell, not comments on the movie itself. Hopefully, this review will balance the scales a bit, and discourage such abuse of reviews in the future...

This is really a film by two filmmakers... Werner Herzog, and Timothy Treadwell. Treadwell is the infamous "grizzly man" who lived among the grizzly bears of Alaska for 13 years, until he and his girlfriend were killed and eaten by a bear. For the last five years, he brought video equipment along and shot movies of the bears, and himself. He saw himself making a movie about the bears, but really, he was making it about himself.

Herzog is also making two films, in a way. First, he is assembling and sharing Treadwell's work. As a filmmaker, Herzog admired Treadwell as a "methodical" and dedicated filmmaker who captured exquisite and deeply moving images of the bears he loved. Second, Herzog created a character study of Treadwell as a person. What many reviewers here fail to comprehend is that Herzog feels no sympathy for Treadwell. He considers Treadwell to be a delusional romantic, descending into paranoia and madness from the cognitive dissonance of his romantic imagination colliding with reality. Herzog, being a stoic German existentialist, sees both bears and humans as heartless killers in an uncaring universe. Herzog, however, is too good a filmmaker to be completely judgemental. He balances the opinions of various people who knew Treadwell, along with Treadwell's self-filmed footage, and lets the viewer judge the goodness or badness of Treadwell's life personally.

The combination of Treadwell's own footage, Herzog's editing, and Herzog's interviews make for an extraordinarily beautiful and moving film. Unfortunately, it is also a difficult film, and most viewers apparently prefer to watch it through the lens of their own prejudices, be they romantic environmentalists or conservative self-styled realists. I recommend trying to watch the film as a FILM, separating your judgement of Treadwell from your judgement of "Grizzly Man". You'll find it rewarding.
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50 of 58 people found the following review helpful
I must admit that my first reaction to this film was not immediately positive; Herzog's presence seemed overbearing and intrusive, and Treadwell himself was a figure so tragic as to be somewhat alienating. And yet I found that, days later, I found I was still thinking about it, still mesmerized by the questions it raised. How truly unsympathetic was Treadwell? Should I be somewhat jealous of him, for all the joy and depth of experience he found in his work? I have, as few have, found little in life so enriching and gratifying as what Treadwell appeared to find in the wilderness; are thirteen summers of that worth an early, terrible end?

So I saw the film again; I recommend that others do the same, if they find themselves at all intrigued after the first viewing. And then I saw the film again, and again. What I found with time -- as I let it develop into an obsession -- was an incredibly complex artwork, capable of provoking rich and sometimes startling meanings.

At its core, I now understand Grizzly Man to be a document of the desperate search for kinship in an alienating world; an insight into what happens when, failing to find an object which fulfills our desires, we resort to projecting our desires onto whatever might hold them. For as Treadwell imagines the bears to be his companions, so too does Herzog attempt to imagine Treadwell as a filmmaker of his own lineage, a comrade in the struggle to capture beauty in a wild and unforgiving universe. Intentionally or not, Herzog's intrusion into this documentary comes to parallel Treadwell's own intrusion into the bears' wild habitat; and we come to realize that the strange and austere beauty he finds in Treadwell's footage is more Herzog's invention than it is a product of the man who captured the images.

One reviewer has noted the failure of this film to acknowledge the "culture of artifice" which drove its participants to such extremes. I would argue, however, that both this phenomenon and the underlying anomie are central to the film; and that acknowledging them would only serve to undermine their tension and delegitimize them as themes, for to do so would require Herzog to depersonalize them, to suppose that he was somehow outside of or above their influence, and in doing so allow the audience to treat them as foreign objects as well. Instead, we come to recognize them empathically, and are left on our own to decide their personal meaning.

In short, this film manages to span the full spectrum between fascination with the other and deepest introspection. And that versatility is a rare quality, truly deserving of five perfect stars.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on June 15, 2006
One of the most unique and disturbing qualities of both photography and film is the ability they have of allowing us to see into people's futures before they themselves have had the chance to experience them. We look at images of people frozen in a happier time before a certain personal tragedy has befallen them, blissfully unaware of the fate that awaits them - and, for a brief moment at least, we sense what it must be like to be God and realize what a burden that must be. This feeling of prophetic omniscience haunts the audience all throughout "Grizzly Man," a morbidly fascinating documentary about a man who is quite literally devoured by his own obsession. This is a film that puts its audience into the position of modern day Cassandras - looking on in helpless horror as the subject moves inexorably towards his bitter fate - grimly aware that there is not a single thing we can do to stop the inevitable from happening.

Timothy Treadwell earned notoriety and even celebrity status as a conservationist who, for thirteen summers, lived amongst a group of grizzly bears in Alaska. While there, he made "friends" with much of the wildlife in the area, filming his experiences in an effort to draw attention to the plight of these creatures at the hands of poachers and hunters. However, in September, 2003, the bizarre idyll came to a tragic end when Treadwell and his girlfriend were attacked and eaten by a hungry bear. The film, written, directed and narrated by famed moviemaker Werner Herzog, is made up of footage Treadwell himself shot of his adventures in the wilderness combined with interviews with people who knew him or were somehow involved in the post mortem activities.

Herzog makes it clear from the outset that Treadwell was always a controversial figure, one who was beloved by fellow conservationists, but treated with, at best, skepticism and, at worst, hostility and scorn by others less favorable to his cause. What we see of the man is alternately inspiring and disturbing. We admire his strong convictions and fearlessness in the face of danger, yet can't help but detect traces of mental illness or at least childish naivete in many of his actions. He is a man constantly testing limits, crossing boundaries and teasing fate. He is often shown interacting with these wild animals with that same air of condescension and sentimentality most people reserve for their benign pets. He names them, talks to them, scolds them, instructs them, cries over them - seemingly convinced that there is some sort of interspecies communication taking place between him and them. We somehow expect someone this knowledgeable about the realities of wildlife to be less susceptible to the temptation - that seems to overcome even the most rational of us - of viewing animals in such intensely anthropomorphic terms. Yet, Treadwell was, apparently, unable to separate himself, either emotionally or psychologically, from the animals he cohabitated with, and he wound up paying the ultimate price for that weakness.

As we watch Treadwell's interactions with the animals and listen to the often self-aggrandizing commentary he provides on his own role in the situation, we get the sense that he saw himself, paradoxically, as both a messiah figure for the grizzlies and a sinner who needed to find his own salvation through them. His experiences with the bears seem as much a way of achieving a meaning and purpose for his own life as it is a way of saving them from the threats of an ever-encroaching and hostile civilization.

As a master director himself, Herzog is also fascinated by Treadwell's techniques as a filmmaker. He shows how Treadwell, ever the perfectionist and showman, would often film seemingly spontaneous scenes a dozen or more times until he was happy that the final take was the one that would show him off to his best advantage. He would even consciously cover up the presence of the cameraman (or woman) in an effort to make it appear as if he were truly alone on these expeditions.

Was Treadwell an environmentalist hero, a self-promoting opportunist or a victim of a bizarre mental illness that allowed him to believe that he was genuinely connecting with the bears on a psychic level - if not a bear himself? "Grizzly Man" raises far more questions than it answers - but, then again, that is what a truly great documentary should be all about.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on September 5, 2007
It's easy to sneer, I admit. Here's this fast-talking, ditsy Hollywood wannabee, capering around in the wilds of Alaska, foolishly risking his life out of a misplaced sense of kinship with dangerous wild animals. A Darwin Award winner, you might think, and on one level you'd be right.

But the sad thing is that there is really no place in our society for people like Timothy Treadwell to go, anymore. And it shows. Henry David Thoreau and John Muir may well have been reduced to spewing profanities at the U.S. Park Service, had they lived in the present. Sure, Treadwell got lost in over-identifying with the bears, with his cute names for them and everthing. Pure cathexis, concentrating emotional attachment onto a single, probably inappropriate object.

But he also achieved a cracklingly intense union with nature. Going ga-ga over bear scat, or a dead bee on a blossom, he truly saw "the world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower". However maladroit he may have been in human society, Treadwell nevertheless experienced nature with a joy and savor and depth that many a more conventional environmentalist could envy.

Of course he was never in a position to protect the bears. Indeed, being killed by one was a sure death sentence for the unfortunate mankiller--bears with a taste for human flesh could not be allowed to remain at large. In that respect Treadwell was unforgivably selfish. He should have known what would follow the event of his own death.

Director Werner Herzog mentions his own run-in with madness in the wilderness, alluding to the famous incident when he threatened to shoot Klaus Kinski during the filming of Aguirre, The Wrath Of God. He admires many of Treadwell's shots, for effects both intended and unintended, and see-saws between treating him as a crazy romantic, and a fellow cinematic artist.

The best thing about the film? The excellent folk-electric soundtrack by Richard Thompson is close to it. The rustic stylings of the ex-Fairport Convention guitarist suit the gorgeous natural setting to a T. The DVD has a nifty in-the-studio featurette with him, in the extras.

Animals can't tell you to buzz off and mind your own business, in so many words, which is why nature worship is so popular among busybodies nowadays. We are not all brothers under the fur. Some of nature's children are just plain old, unemployed, probably agnostic, wild beasts, into whom the lonelier of us project ourselves. On that account, Treadwell wasn't much different from the batty old maid with an apartment full of cats. But, for the transports of ecstasy he experienced in bear country, and filmed, and shared with thousands, he is someone whose memory will be long treasured. The gifted, sensitive filmmaker will be remembered, not the suicidal fool.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
Timothy Treadwell loved grizzly bears; he lived among them for twelve odd years, filmed them, tried to protect them and ultimately was savagely killed by them along with his girlfriend in Alaska. This film, directed and narrated by acclaimed German film maker Werner Herzog, tries to understand his motives and offers differing views on Timothy's quixotic approach to wilderness conservation.

Let's start with the cinematography. Using a hand-held digicam Treadwell's footage is undeniably impressive. You can tell the zoom button is rarely used as he captures shots of fully-grown bears checking out his camp and shooting him hungry stares as he waxes lyrical about his favourite topic. He explains how he cannot be seen to be weak and refuses to give ground to the alpha males or tries to stroke the bear cubs with the mother just yards away. Ozzie Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin, has nothing on this bloke. If a fight ever ensued, you know that Timothy would come off a very poor second and since the manner of his death is revealed early on in the film you always feel that violent dismemberment is a distinct possibility. The 100 plus hours of film that was edited into this film captures the full majesty of the expansive landscape and also the personal drama and relationship with nature incredibly.

In contrast with March of the Penguins, for example, Grizzly Man's focus is not on the animals themselves, but on one man's obsession. Park Rangers and ecologists discuss whether this hands-on approach is really beneficial to the animals. Treadwell makes clear his pacifism and that he would never harm a bear, while the rangers explain that to maintain their numbers a 6% cull is necessary each year and that having the bears get used to a human presence is probably not in their best interests. With each passing year Treadwell associates more with the bears than civilization, highlighted well when he films fellow bear watchers with the kind of paranoia that comes from sitting in a tent with just your teddy for company for weeks. Treadwell is clearly a driven man, and Herzog suggests that this drive comes from wanting to belong to something simpler, nobler and fairer than his life in Los Angeles or Florida would allow. I love that Herzog points out that nature is far from this Utopian ideal. Nature is brutal, dangerous and based on a hierarchical food chain and that's something Morgan Freeman never mentioned about his penguins ("This is a story about love..."). Treadwell turns a semiblind eye to evidence that mature bears have obviously devoured one of their offspring, mentioning all kinds of mitigating circumstances like they would have died of starvation if they hadn't eaten him...

The score by Richard Thomson is fantastic. On the DVD there is a 45 minute mini documentary about its making which could easily be watched in isolation from the film. Thomson is perfect for creating the rough-edged, plaintive soul of the film, nature with a hint of menace, beauty tempered with imminent brutality. Seeing how he crafts the guitar sounds, with cello and acoustic bass, around the progression of a scene is a lesson in professional sound tracking. Herzog is also instrumental in the direction of the sound track. My favourite moment comes when he berates the percussionist for sounding too much like a `bongo playing hippy in Golden Gate Park'. While Treadwell has undeniable hippy tendencies, Herzog eschews direct musical clichés and encourages the band to explore the space and atmosphere of Alaska without sounding like `music for truckers'. Again, compare this to the saccharine Penguins soundtrack which had more in common with Bambi than the unforgiving Antarctic wasteland where it was filmed.

This is a fascinating film which succeeds on many levels. It is perfectly paced featuring candid interviews with friends and colleagues, interspersed with the choicest footage of the bears and, more importantly, the man. Had Treadwell lived to edit his own documentary together it would have been very different, no matter what Herzog implies in his commentary. His film would have been geared towards painting the bears in the best light possible and excluded much of the inherent violence. And the scene where he rants for 5 minutes using very Californian expletives about the attitudes of the park rangers would probably have been left on the virtual cutting room floor. This film is an engaging and fitting tribute to a man whose passionate obsession with bears led to tragedy, yet whose story and filming can inspire similar passion about the wilderness.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 2006
An absolutely riveting film. It is most amazing, that it took so long for a bear to decide to kill Timothy Treadwell. In his desire to protect the bears he loved, he showed a complete lack of respect for them or their environment. His attempts at "humanizing" them, by giving them names and human emotions made me want to scream. His life and death are certain proof of natural selection. Werner Herzog has made a brilliant film, his editing, naration and use of Treadwells own videos were perfect.

In the end, you are left to decide where sympathy should rest.

For me, it's squarely with the bears.
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