Owl" on DVD
Dances With Beavers
by Jim Bray
"Grey Owl" is a biopic similar in many ways to his 1980's epic "Gandhi."
It tells the true life story of Archie Grey Owl, a 1930's-vintage Indian
trapper and guide who came to fame as one of the first environmental activists.
Grey Owl is a lot
more than that, however. He's an author and a man with a secret past he
doesn't want discovered, and that colors his life and affects his relationships
with those closest to him, including his wife "Pony."
The Grey Owl character
wasn't always a "tree hugger," (well, beaver hugger). He has an epiphany
when he thinks one of the baby beavers his wife's raising (after he killed
its mother) gets caught in one of his traps, and he decides to "study
trapping no more." He then becomes a tireless activist against civilization's
encroaching upon the wilderness, a calling that takes him across Canada
and to England to present his arguments before thousands of fans.
Why it's okay for
beavers to cut down trees and dam rivers yet it isn't okay for humans
to do the same thing (despite both species being part of the same "circle
of life") isn't explained. Then again, Grey Owl lived before most people
had thought of environmentalism, let alone sustainable development...
But I digress...
Grey Owl was filmed
mostly in Quebec, Canada (with a few sequences lensed in England), in
some truly beautiful locations. Attenborough has given the film an epic
look and feel, and it's easy to see why Archie Grey Owl would want to
live in these lovely landscapes - and would fight to protect them.
Pierce Brosnan turns
in an excellent performance in the title role. He's believable as the
outdoorsman living off the land, as the reluctant lover, and as the traveling
lecturer with the ecological message. This is not James Bond in skins;
it's a full and subtle performance from an actor who's much better than
most of his roles require him to be. The cast also includes newcomer Annie
Galipeau as Archie's wife "Pony," and she was an inspired casting choice.
She's authentic, earnest, and lovely, and she holds her own very well
next to Brosnan.
Grey Owl is, in essence,
a loving portrait of a misfit who followed - and found - his dream. It's
also a loving look at the native North American society, much like "Dances
With Wolves" was, that portrays the "Red Indians" as noble and civilized
rather than as the "savage redskins" of many movie portrayals.
The widescreen "Special
Edition" DVD is in Dolby 5.1 surround and the quality of the picture and
sound are top notch. The French soundtrack is also offered in Dolby Digital
5.1, which is a nice touch.
The layer change on
this dual layer DVD wasn't handled particularly well, however; on our
reference DVD player (a mid-line Sony), the disc froze for about fifteen
seconds before picking up where it left off and continuing on as if nothing
We've noticed this
problem on a few other discs ("Amistad" was particularly bad)
and it concerns us a bit. Why they would even need to use both layers
of the disc for a film that runs 118 minutes is unknown. Sure, there are
enough extras on the "Grey Owl" DVD to require the extra storage space,
but why break up the movie? Why not use one layer for the film and the
other for the extras?
We don't know. Perhaps
it has something to do with having both English and French Dolby Digital
soundtracks. Whatever the reason, the interruption ended up being almost
as bad as the inevitable flipping over of sides on laserdiscs.
As mentioned, Columbia
Tristar Home Video also loads plenty of extras onto the disc. There's
a fascinating commentary by director Sir Richard Attenborough (and another
one by producer Jake Eberts), bios/filmographies of the cast and crew,
2 featurettes on the genesis of the movie, a "Grey Owl trivia game" (which
is, indeed, quite trivial), teaser/trailer, and captioning.
An unexpected, but
very welcome, bonus is the inclusion of two vintage shorts on the real
Grey Owl, filmed in the 1930's, that are very interesting.
There's also a bunch
of DVD ROM stuff, including a copy of the complete screenplay that offers
access to scenes in the finished film. You also get excerpts from the
illustrated book "The Making of Richard Attenborough's Grey Owl," a biography
of the real guy himself, a screensaver/wallpaper thingy, and more.
It's a very complete
package worthy of such a fine and, unfortunately, underappreciated on
its initial release, film.
Grey Owl, from Columbia
Tristar Home Video
118 minutes, Widescreen (2.35:1), Dolby Digital
Starring Pierce Brosnan, Annie Galipeau,
Produced by Jake Eberts and Richard Attenborough, Screenplay by William
Directed by Richard Attenborough
Tell us at TechnoFile what YOU think