Charles Martin Smith in Never Cry Wolf (1983)


(director: Carroll Ballard; screenwriters: from the book by Farley Mowat/Curtis Hanson/Sam Hamm/Richard Kletter; cinematographer: Hiro Narita; editors: Michael Chandler/Peter Parasheles; music: Mark Isham; cast: Charles Martin Smith (Tyler), Brian Dennehy (Rosie), Zachary Ittimangnaq (Ootek), Samson Jorah (Mike), Martha Ittimangnaq (Woman), C.M. Smith/Eugene Corr/Christina Luescher (Narrators); Runtime: 105; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Lewis Allen/Jack Couffer/Joseph Strick; Buena Vista; 1983)

“Genuinely affecting nature film with spectacular location shots.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A Call of the Wild type of genuinely affecting nature film with spectacular location shots that’s based on the autobiographical novel by Farley Mowat. It’s the true story of a young government researcher biologist, in the film called Tyler (Charles Martin Smith), adventurously trekking in the spring for six months deep in the Arctic to be on his own to study wolves and their effect in thinning the caribou herds.

It’s vividly directed by Carroll Ballard (“The Black Stallion”/”Wind”/”Fly Away Home”) and produced by Disney Studios. Ballard along with writers Curtis Hanson, Sam Hamm and Richard Kletter give it an engrossing Darwinian edge and load it up with symbolism of man and animals trying to survive in the wilderness, but with no real villains only different ways of making a go of it–with the more spiritual and ecological ways clearly preferred by the filmmaker.

Tyler is dropped with several crates of supplies on the desolate vast frozen Arctic tundra after a harrowing ride aboard the rickety seaplane owned by bush pilot Rosie (Brian Dennehy). When on the snow covered ground he is fearful that he got into something over his head that he won’t be able to survive, as he’s ill-prepared with too many cans of asparagus and bottles of the local Moosehead Beer and no previous experience in such harsh terrain. Fortunately Tyler is saved from freezing to death by a laconic old Inuit, Ootek (Zachary Ittimangnaq), who comes by with his dog sled and builds him a fire and sets him up in a tent before disappearing.

As Tyler settles into his task, he follows a family of white wolves and through studying how they survive he begins to understand not only them but himself better. Tyler’s fears turn to respect for the wolf, a proud animal that remains fierce and distant and logical in killing only the weaker caribou. Since caribou are rarely seen, the wolves survive very well off eating the mice. Tyler follows their example and finds it very healthy. During the summer Ootek returns with his adopted English-speaking young son Mike (Samson Jorah), and they spend some time with him teaching him the ways of the wolf that they know from a lifetime of experience.

By the end of the film each character is defined symbolically. It turns out that Mike must kill wolves to sell their valuable pelts to support his family. Ootek is the wily old wise man who has a spiritual handle on life in the wilderness. Rosie returns six months later with a new plane and plans for digging up the land. He represents the ugly personal gain exploiters of the pristine wilderness, who can’t see anything beyond materialism but is a personable chap. While Tyler is the idealistic scientist who grew up during this research project and realizes he has something to contribute about the wonders and the beauty of nature that too many of us have lost sight of living in artificial worlds where nature has been shut out of our lives.

This is one of the better nature pics; it makes for a compelling watch for the most part, though it does weaken a bit when it becomes too didactic.