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A Grizzly Death: I review the documentary film "Grizzly Man"

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March 03, 2006

A Grizzly Death: I review the documentary film "Grizzly Man"

By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily

In October 2003, a failed actor named Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend Amy Hugeuenard were killed and eaten by an Alaska brown bear, which was in turn killed by the people who went to clean up the mess. Treadwell, the self-styled “protector” of bears in a region of Katmai National Park, had lived with them for 13 years until finally the bears had enough of him.

In 2005, a German film director named Werner Herzog made a documentary on Treadwell’s life and death, and it ran on the Discovery Channel this past weekend. I’m reviewing it here because it’s a creepy and unforgettable 103 minutes. In his 13 summers with the bruins, Treadwell filmed them and himself, and much of the movie is of brown bears, and of Treadwell mouthing off to the camera about his relationship with them.

The brown bear footage is amazing, but Treadwell is the most dislikeable human being I have ever seen on film, and he was also stark raving crazy. Witness him fondling a moist, fresh bear turd and crooning with ecstasy, or weeping softly and muttering endearments to a bored red fox. Clearly, this is a guy who should have had a net thrown over him many years ago.

The film is also notable because it is impartial. Herzog does not lionize Treadwell; indeed, some of the people he interviews are highly unflattering to the late grizzly man. Perhaps Herzog’s own quote at the end of the film is the most damning:

“And what haunts me is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food. But for Timothy Treadwell, this bear was a friend, a savior.”

Don’t miss it.

Editor's Note: "Grizzly Man" aired on the Discovery Channel last weekend. We've checked their schedule and the show isn't in any future lineups until this summer. In the meantime, you can buy it on DVD from the Discovery Channel store here. We think it's worth it.

from flintinfrizzen wrote 5 years 20 weeks ago

Yeah, Joe T., go up to Alaska and become the next "bear whisperer"! [BTW, what the hell's up with the word "whisperer"? It seems that every potential literary POS includes that word in its title!] I'll "whisper" endearments to and lovingly pet a bear only while skinning him with plans to make him BBQ after successfully preventing HIM from eating ME! I'm not perfect, but thanks anyway, Joe, for labeling people who try to wax sensible as "creeps"! Liberals--like all other sinners, myself included--can and should repent. And I view the "Saint" Barack Hussein Obama years with such extreme suspicion that I shall bitterly cling to my religious faith and my guns for deliverance.

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from Jim in Mo wrote 5 years 20 weeks ago

Joe T.Why don't you become Treadwells replacement? You sound about as flakey as him.

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from Joe T. wrote 5 years 20 weeks ago

P.S. It's probably creeps like you that drove Treadwell into the woods to try to make friends with bears in the first place.

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from Joe T. wrote 5 years 20 weeks ago

I thought this movie was a poignant tragedy about a sensitive but obviously very lonely, alienated and emotionally disturbed man and his girlfriend who heroically sacrificed her life by staying with him while he was being attacked. There was a program on TV after the movie with interviews of Treadwell's friends and acquaintances that portrayed him and his cause much more positively than the movie. I'm shocked by the almost psychopathic hostility of some of the comments posted on this board towards Treadwell. But I think they speak volumes more about the poster's state of mind than his. (In other words, who peed in your cornflakes?)And by the way, I'M a Liberal myself.Don't like it? Too bad. Happy Shootin' and enjoy the Obama years!

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from Brian L wrote 5 years 45 weeks ago

Tim and his girlfriend were also known locally as alcoholics and drug addicts. They had their share of run-ins with law enforcement.They were hopped-up hippy scum. The media has not shared that this idiot, was a junkie. I personally know many people local who knew this trash. Anyways I am still angry about the media making him and that crocodile hunter out to be saints and good people. I am conservationist,fisherman, and hunter. I respect all fish and game, and the outdoors. I dont harass animals or exploit them for profit.

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from Mike M wrote 7 years 40 weeks ago

1st Grizzly man was NOT a documentary. Second, this cat was a man with more money than brains. I saw this on DVD hoping for a wildlife documentary. I was sorley disappointed. I saw first hand the insanity that IS the "Green" community. He was NO environmentalist just a fool CA rich kid with NO clue to the workings and ways of the natural world.That being said, he got what he wanted, and I do not mourn for his death. Being one that has spent alot (Not near enough by MY estimation) of time in nature. I could think of a no more fitting way to die than in nature doing what I love. My thoughts run parralel to those of my father and grandfather. "Should I die in the woods or be killed by one of the wild critters I have so loved and that have brought me so much happiness and contentment. My hope is that the wild creatures eat my useless carcass so I can do SOME good for the wilderness that has brought me so much joy in my life."Tim Treadwell did just THAT. Its just a crying shame he had to bring a lass into it and get her killed. When she on more than 1 occasion said she was afraid of bears, and really didnt want to be there. It was Treadwells own selfishness that brought her to being there. Also, a shame that the bear that did Tim such a favor had to be put down to protect the rest of the humans that enjoy that part of the wild world.

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from David Rafter wrote 7 years 41 weeks ago

BIG BEARS OF KATMAI Treadwell he fed well the big bears of Katmai. While camping on the trail, One last time he did fail,To see certain danger,Or listen to the Ranger. Bear headed to the river,Perhaps it would deliver,Some scaly swimming fish,That was bears only wish. Then snout it fully scented,Two people close by tented,The man was sweetly singing,Bears empty stomach ringing.The woman yelled play dead,For somewhere she had read,Alas too little too late,Big bear had taken the bait.While bear supped he sat,Till not much left but hat,In the woods bear shat,Rendering california greenie bear skat.The moral is clear my son,If you are not fast enough to outrun,Choose not to carry a big gun,Tent camping in Katmai you should shun.Treadwell he fed well the big bears of Katmai

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from Joe Alanis wrote 8 years 5 weeks ago

I saw the documentary last year (summer?) My initial impression was one of wonder. I wonder how this moron was allowed to proceed with this suicidal behavior for so long. Then entire thing was strictly forbidden by the United States Code of Federal Regulations. If he had tried to "bait" bears at Big Bend National Park, he would have been arrested the first day. Or at the very least, fined severely. The Dept. of Interior dropped the ball on this one. The regulation I refer to was enacted to prevent endangerment to wildlife in the very manner depicted by the film. That is accustoming wildlife to lose its fear of man.The "work" wasn't the least bit scientific; lacking theory, methodology, and linear analysis. Its all bear pie. Prophetically enough, so is Mr. Treadwell. Luckily, for all of us real life wildlife biologists, he never really claims to be one thereby sparing us defamation.One good thing I can say, he would have made one hell of an opening act for Emperor Titus at the Coloseum.

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from Brad wrote 8 years 5 weeks ago

OOPS!!! The book I described above is actually "The Grizzly Maze" by Nick Jans. I went up to my hunting cabin this weekend, where I have both books and realized I mixed up the titles-- Anyway-- the Nick Jans book is an excellent read.

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from Brad wrote 8 years 5 weeks ago

There is an excellent book called "Death in the Grizzly Maze: The Timothy Treadwell story", by Mike Lapinsky. It exposes this guy for the fraud that he was...such as taking pictures of a man carrying a shotgun and passing the pictures off to the California gullibles, as a poacher trying to kill "his bears". The guy was actually a tour guide for grizzly watchers standing on walkways built specifically for that purpose and had the gun only as a last resort protection. The picture was carefully cropped to omit the wooden walkways and the crowd. That's how he got his money to "commune" with the bears that were very used to people being around anyway. If he'd only approached a truly wild grizzly in the wild, maybe he'd have been a bear's dinner before his propaganda was ever spread. I'd suggest the book as very good reading. There are some people in this world that are bent on doing stupid things (driving drunk comes to mind) and then are shocked when something bad happens. Treadwell definitely fit the bill.

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from Richard A. Smith wrote 8 years 5 weeks ago

I've read a few things about this guy, I can only say that he probably got what he deserved. What a nut-case.Thanks for the tip on the show/DVD, I'll have to take a look at it.

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from nick wrote 8 years 5 weeks ago

first of all this guy was a wacko liberal,waiting to get eaten anyone who thinks bears are his or her freinds is just asking to be lunch and who would go into the alaskan bush without some form of protection against animals. he tryed to save bears in the end he killed 2 of them because he was to stupid to leave them alone !

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from Xavier wrote 8 years 5 weeks ago

The film was biased;Anyone who has hunted/fished alone for any length of time can understand the 'crazy talk'.

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from Ditto wrote 8 years 6 weeks ago

Three things:1) Treaadwell was an annoying, self-important, mentally unstable person who had no business holding a camera, much less "communing" with nature the way he did.2) Who was he protecting the bears from? Fishermen? Photographers?3) The world can be grateful that Woody Harrelson got the role of "Woody" on Cheers

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from lewis_medlock wrote 8 years 6 weeks ago

too much has been said about mr. treadwell....had he not had the means to go to katmai every year, he might have been just another urban bum freezing to death on a february night in NYC.As far as 'living ' with the bears, how long would an animated, talking beef burrito that ran around your living room making noise last? 13 years seems like a pretty good run of it!LM

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from Garrick wrote 8 years 6 weeks ago

I don't care what he is. He is an excellent musician.

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from Joney wrote 8 years 6 weeks ago

by the way, Richzard Thompson is a liberal.

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from Garrick wrote 8 years 6 weeks ago

The DVD has a hidden gem in the special features. It has a live recording session featuring the Scottish folk artist Richard Thompson. Thompson composed the amazing soundtrack for the documentary.

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from ranger nick wrote 8 years 6 weeks ago

Well Dave,ABC News loved this guy. It's to bad the little girlfriend also died.Just remember," Bears gotta eat too!" He was a lunch waiting to happen. His friend was eaten a year or two before him. Didn't take the hint.Sadly, the gov't detroyed the bruins that took him out. Nature lost two noble creatures.He was a sad puppy. God forgive him.

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from Evan! wrote 8 years 6 weeks ago

Nice review. The film is an odd one to approach, and difficult to put together in one's own head after viewing. After all, despite the title and "ad campaign," it is not a film about bears. Rather, its a film about an egomaniacal, obsessive man who shuts himself off from civilization in some sort of attempt to commune with nature. And in that spirit, Herzog succeeds with flying colors. Intriguing!keep up the good work.yrs-Evan!

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from flintinfrizzen wrote 5 years 20 weeks ago

Yeah, Joe T., go up to Alaska and become the next "bear whisperer"! [BTW, what the hell's up with the word "whisperer"? It seems that every potential literary POS includes that word in its title!] I'll "whisper" endearments to and lovingly pet a bear only while skinning him with plans to make him BBQ after successfully preventing HIM from eating ME! I'm not perfect, but thanks anyway, Joe, for labeling people who try to wax sensible as "creeps"! Liberals--like all other sinners, myself included--can and should repent. And I view the "Saint" Barack Hussein Obama years with such extreme suspicion that I shall bitterly cling to my religious faith and my guns for deliverance.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Jim in Mo wrote 5 years 20 weeks ago

Joe T.Why don't you become Treadwells replacement? You sound about as flakey as him.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Joe T. wrote 5 years 20 weeks ago

P.S. It's probably creeps like you that drove Treadwell into the woods to try to make friends with bears in the first place.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Joe T. wrote 5 years 20 weeks ago

I thought this movie was a poignant tragedy about a sensitive but obviously very lonely, alienated and emotionally disturbed man and his girlfriend who heroically sacrificed her life by staying with him while he was being attacked. There was a program on TV after the movie with interviews of Treadwell's friends and acquaintances that portrayed him and his cause much more positively than the movie. I'm shocked by the almost psychopathic hostility of some of the comments posted on this board towards Treadwell. But I think they speak volumes more about the poster's state of mind than his. (In other words, who peed in your cornflakes?)And by the way, I'M a Liberal myself.Don't like it? Too bad. Happy Shootin' and enjoy the Obama years!

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Brian L wrote 5 years 45 weeks ago

Tim and his girlfriend were also known locally as alcoholics and drug addicts. They had their share of run-ins with law enforcement.They were hopped-up hippy scum. The media has not shared that this idiot, was a junkie. I personally know many people local who knew this trash. Anyways I am still angry about the media making him and that crocodile hunter out to be saints and good people. I am conservationist,fisherman, and hunter. I respect all fish and game, and the outdoors. I dont harass animals or exploit them for profit.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Mike M wrote 7 years 40 weeks ago

1st Grizzly man was NOT a documentary. Second, this cat was a man with more money than brains. I saw this on DVD hoping for a wildlife documentary. I was sorley disappointed. I saw first hand the insanity that IS the "Green" community. He was NO environmentalist just a fool CA rich kid with NO clue to the workings and ways of the natural world.That being said, he got what he wanted, and I do not mourn for his death. Being one that has spent alot (Not near enough by MY estimation) of time in nature. I could think of a no more fitting way to die than in nature doing what I love. My thoughts run parralel to those of my father and grandfather. "Should I die in the woods or be killed by one of the wild critters I have so loved and that have brought me so much happiness and contentment. My hope is that the wild creatures eat my useless carcass so I can do SOME good for the wilderness that has brought me so much joy in my life."Tim Treadwell did just THAT. Its just a crying shame he had to bring a lass into it and get her killed. When she on more than 1 occasion said she was afraid of bears, and really didnt want to be there. It was Treadwells own selfishness that brought her to being there. Also, a shame that the bear that did Tim such a favor had to be put down to protect the rest of the humans that enjoy that part of the wild world.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from David Rafter wrote 7 years 41 weeks ago

BIG BEARS OF KATMAI Treadwell he fed well the big bears of Katmai. While camping on the trail, One last time he did fail,To see certain danger,Or listen to the Ranger. Bear headed to the river,Perhaps it would deliver,Some scaly swimming fish,That was bears only wish. Then snout it fully scented,Two people close by tented,The man was sweetly singing,Bears empty stomach ringing.The woman yelled play dead,For somewhere she had read,Alas too little too late,Big bear had taken the bait.While bear supped he sat,Till not much left but hat,In the woods bear shat,Rendering california greenie bear skat.The moral is clear my son,If you are not fast enough to outrun,Choose not to carry a big gun,Tent camping in Katmai you should shun.Treadwell he fed well the big bears of Katmai

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Joe Alanis wrote 8 years 5 weeks ago

I saw the documentary last year (summer?) My initial impression was one of wonder. I wonder how this moron was allowed to proceed with this suicidal behavior for so long. Then entire thing was strictly forbidden by the United States Code of Federal Regulations. If he had tried to "bait" bears at Big Bend National Park, he would have been arrested the first day. Or at the very least, fined severely. The Dept. of Interior dropped the ball on this one. The regulation I refer to was enacted to prevent endangerment to wildlife in the very manner depicted by the film. That is accustoming wildlife to lose its fear of man.The "work" wasn't the least bit scientific; lacking theory, methodology, and linear analysis. Its all bear pie. Prophetically enough, so is Mr. Treadwell. Luckily, for all of us real life wildlife biologists, he never really claims to be one thereby sparing us defamation.One good thing I can say, he would have made one hell of an opening act for Emperor Titus at the Coloseum.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Brad wrote 8 years 5 weeks ago

OOPS!!! The book I described above is actually "The Grizzly Maze" by Nick Jans. I went up to my hunting cabin this weekend, where I have both books and realized I mixed up the titles-- Anyway-- the Nick Jans book is an excellent read.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Brad wrote 8 years 5 weeks ago

There is an excellent book called "Death in the Grizzly Maze: The Timothy Treadwell story", by Mike Lapinsky. It exposes this guy for the fraud that he was...such as taking pictures of a man carrying a shotgun and passing the pictures off to the California gullibles, as a poacher trying to kill "his bears". The guy was actually a tour guide for grizzly watchers standing on walkways built specifically for that purpose and had the gun only as a last resort protection. The picture was carefully cropped to omit the wooden walkways and the crowd. That's how he got his money to "commune" with the bears that were very used to people being around anyway. If he'd only approached a truly wild grizzly in the wild, maybe he'd have been a bear's dinner before his propaganda was ever spread. I'd suggest the book as very good reading. There are some people in this world that are bent on doing stupid things (driving drunk comes to mind) and then are shocked when something bad happens. Treadwell definitely fit the bill.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Richard A. Smith wrote 8 years 5 weeks ago

I've read a few things about this guy, I can only say that he probably got what he deserved. What a nut-case.Thanks for the tip on the show/DVD, I'll have to take a look at it.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from nick wrote 8 years 5 weeks ago

first of all this guy was a wacko liberal,waiting to get eaten anyone who thinks bears are his or her freinds is just asking to be lunch and who would go into the alaskan bush without some form of protection against animals. he tryed to save bears in the end he killed 2 of them because he was to stupid to leave them alone !

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Xavier wrote 8 years 5 weeks ago

The film was biased;Anyone who has hunted/fished alone for any length of time can understand the 'crazy talk'.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Ditto wrote 8 years 6 weeks ago

Three things:1) Treaadwell was an annoying, self-important, mentally unstable person who had no business holding a camera, much less "communing" with nature the way he did.2) Who was he protecting the bears from? Fishermen? Photographers?3) The world can be grateful that Woody Harrelson got the role of "Woody" on Cheers

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from lewis_medlock wrote 8 years 6 weeks ago

too much has been said about mr. treadwell....had he not had the means to go to katmai every year, he might have been just another urban bum freezing to death on a february night in NYC.As far as 'living ' with the bears, how long would an animated, talking beef burrito that ran around your living room making noise last? 13 years seems like a pretty good run of it!LM

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Garrick wrote 8 years 6 weeks ago

I don't care what he is. He is an excellent musician.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Joney wrote 8 years 6 weeks ago

by the way, Richzard Thompson is a liberal.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Garrick wrote 8 years 6 weeks ago

The DVD has a hidden gem in the special features. It has a live recording session featuring the Scottish folk artist Richard Thompson. Thompson composed the amazing soundtrack for the documentary.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from ranger nick wrote 8 years 6 weeks ago

Well Dave,ABC News loved this guy. It's to bad the little girlfriend also died.Just remember," Bears gotta eat too!" He was a lunch waiting to happen. His friend was eaten a year or two before him. Didn't take the hint.Sadly, the gov't detroyed the bruins that took him out. Nature lost two noble creatures.He was a sad puppy. God forgive him.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from Evan! wrote 8 years 6 weeks ago

Nice review. The film is an odd one to approach, and difficult to put together in one's own head after viewing. After all, despite the title and "ad campaign," it is not a film about bears. Rather, its a film about an egomaniacal, obsessive man who shuts himself off from civilization in some sort of attempt to commune with nature. And in that spirit, Herzog succeeds with flying colors. Intriguing!keep up the good work.yrs-Evan!

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