Monday, January 30, 2012

Film review: "The Grey" nominated for the International Wolf Center’s 2012 Scat Award

Note: From time to time, we will invite guest bloggers to post on Wild Bytes. Nancy Jo Tubbs, International Wolf Center board chair, recently watched The Grey and has written this movie review.

"The Grey" nominated for the 2012 Scat Award
The Grey is a monster movie-dark, depressing, and as accurate a portrayal of wolf behavior as King Kong was about gorillas.

The Center is not only nominating The Grey for its first ever Scat Award in the Scare Tactics and Silly Information categories, it’s encouraging blog readers to respond and add to the list of incidents of misinformation we found in the film.

Some movie critics have appreciated the action flick that opened January 27 for its grit or panned it for its schmaltzy man-bonding moments and ambiguous ending. Pro-wolf folks seem to dislike this movie the same way herpetologists probably reacted to Snakes on a Plane and marine biologists hated Jaws. Wolf organizations offended by the portrayal of the wolf as a relentless human-hunting machine are encouraging a boycott and slamming actor Liam Neeson for playing the main character, wolf hunter John Ottway. The International Wolf Center likes to take an educational approach, even to movies.

The overriding problem with The Grey is that the wolves are portrayed as “man-killers,” when the incidence of wolves killing humans in North America is so rare as to garner huge headlines. Two cases have been documented—a 2005 killing by wolves in Saskatchewan and a 2010 death near Chignik Lake, Alaska.

A wolf trapper who provided four wolf carcasses to the production was quoted in British Columbia’s online news source, The Province, as saying about his own meetings with wolves in the wild, “I think they’ve always been curious, you know: What am I doing? I never really felt threatened by them. I’ve seen them watching me from, I don’t know, 75 feet away and then as soon as you look at them they take off.”

Much of the misinformation about wolves in the film comes from the dialogue. Ottway, is guiding seven reprobate oil riggers, survivors of a plane crash, out of the Alaskan wilderness while fighting off a pack wolves that kill the men, one by one. He’s a professional hunter who sounds like an expert, but spouts nonsense, like when he says that wolves have a territory of about 300 square miles and hunt in only about 30 of them. “Fact check: Wolves hunt throughout their territory, and in Alaska that can vary from 300 to 1,000 square miles.

If that sounds nitpicky, consider that central to the plot is Ottway’s pronouncement in this winter saga that the wolves (and now the men) are worried that the humans might encroach on the wolves’ den and would be killed as intruders. Fact check: Wolves den only in the spring in order to bear and raise their pups, and then only for 8-10 weeks. By fall, the pack is on the move.

Most laughable is the assertion by Ottway that the alpha of the pack sent an omega in to attack one of the men gathered around a fire. Fact check: While anthropomorphizing—attributing human characteristics to non-human things or animals—can be fun, it’s rarely true. Low-ranking wolf or not, it wouldn’t have attacked on any other wolf’s “instructions.”

Further, even the terms “alpha” and “omega” in regards to wolves are outdated. Those in the know now refer to the pack as a “family social unit.” The parents are the “breeding pair,” The others in the pack are pups, or yearlings if they are offspring from the prior year, and might be referred to as “subordinate males or females.”

Under the just plain “silly” category is the ludicrous depiction of seven weakened crash survivors outrunning a pack of wolves in knee-deep snow.  Wolves’ feet are especially adapted to run over difficult terrain, such as snow. Given the fact that they can reach speeds of up to 38 mph., our intrepid survivors had a better chance of being rescued by Santa Claus.

We might also note what is missing from the film: Evidence of the wolf’s prey species. These huge, healthy wolves must have been feeding on caribou, deer or moose, but until we see carcasses at the very end, the movie leads us to believe that the humans in the picture are their only possible source of food.

This movie’s wolves are over-sized, hyper-relentless, emitting howls and deep bass growls at appropriately dramatic moments, cued by the director and amplified by the best surround-sound system Hollywood could afford—sans Jurassic Park. But that’s what makes this movie a horror flick and sets a bead of sweat sliding down the back of the viewers’ neck. These are King Kong wolves, Godzilla wolves—not the real deal.

A film review by Brad Wieners in Outside magazine put it well when he said, “We’re talking hand-to-hand combat with animatronic wolves that behave less like canines than like frenzied barracuda.”

In fact, The Grey used sophisticated puppetry and computer-generated images for its wolf scenes. The only animal that looks real and portrays the kind of wolf behavior one is likely to experience is a wolf seen trotting off in the distance.

Movie-goers who like to be scared out of their socks in the theater probably won’t pick up on the wacky wolf information being conveyed, but here at the Center we hope that later they’ll learn enough about real wolf behavior so they’re not scared to take a walk in the winter woods.

What is the Scat Award?
New in 2012, the Center will name the movies, advertisements and other promotional media that represent the best of the worst witless, whoppers of wolf hooey. Stay tuned this time next year when Oscar season rolls around to hear how The Grey fared in this Scat Award competition of misdirected, misbegotten, mischievous misrepresentation.

How much misinformation can you find in The Grey?
Help us with The Grey fact check. We hope you will comment here to educate others about the misinformation you found when watching the movie. You can use the Center’s Web site to learn about the real wolf and add to your arsenal of wolf facts about wolves in Alaska and around the world. Go to

 —By Nancy Jo Tubbs


  1. Just saw the movie and was astonished to see wolves portrayed differently from everything I've ever read about them. Also suspected Liam Neeson must be more than human when he takes a dunking in a freezing river rushing through a snowy landscape, emerges without a shiver, never even attempts to dry out, build a fire or warm up, and continues on his merry way. Did I miss something? Is hypothermia as mythical as the wolves in this flick?

    1. Sigh. Misinformation cuts both ways it appears.

      He was wearing wool. Wool retains much of its insulation properties even when wet.

      If you keep moving. it isn't so bad honestly. Do you need help eventually? Well duh .. yeah. I have actually experienced near freezing water dunking in clothing in sub zero temperatures and it depends on several variables. A big one is again the type of clothing.

      Let the norepinephrine kick in and keep moving and you won't instantly go into shock (provided the wind chill is not insane) Your body is somewhat adaptive for heat redistribution via blood circulatory prioritization between the core and the extremities.

      I took it to be symbolic that as he stopped moving and went into is whole wallet burial ritual, that he felt he was done and hypothermia was trying to creep in.

  2. I also very much like the line where Ottway says that he is hired to protect the workers from the wolves and at the beginning of the movie shoots a wolf that is making a dart for the oil workers lol....i started laughing out loud in the movie

  3. I thought it was ridiculous when they said in the film that the wolf is the only animal that seeks revenge. We all know the only animal that seeks revenge is Man.

  4. What a really great review - humorously scathing. Perfect! I will somehow manage to sit through the movie. A super-sized buttered popcorn will help. The Scat Award is pure genius. Neil

  5. It seems like "The Grey" is as accurate a depiction of wolves as "The Muppets" is of frogs, pigs and bears.

  6. Love the comments! I laughed out loud when Ottway wandered into the "den" and there were skeletal remains of huge prey animals as if the wolves and carried them to that location and when i noticed an elk antler. Last I checked, elk are not present in the interior of Alaska...

  7. Well,I will not be seeing this movie. I am not really a movie goer anyway. I don'tike anything I have heard about this movie.Sounds like a waste of time and money. Perhaps a documentary on wolves is in order for after the movie! Lol Obviously bery poor "facts" are presented. What a shame.

  8. A mention of the Scat Award by a regional paper.

  9. I applaud the effort to set the record straight on wolves. While we're at it, how about the scene where they jump off of perfectly solid ground into the tops of trees many stories high some twenty or thirty feet away? Who in their right mind would do that and how likely would it be to succeed? Momentum would carry you straight to the ground. Of course, no one ever dies from a fall in a movie anymore, no matter how far. I was also a bit put off by the scene were a wolf was making a death charge toward a oil worker and Ottoway shoots it dead in it's tracks only a few feet from it's target.

    Having said that, I must also say that "Jaws" never claimed to be an accurate depiction of sharks and their behavior. "The Grey" was never billed as a documentary. I have to laugh at people who can't lighten up and realize it's just a movie. If you want realism and unerring facts, you will never enjoy films like "Star Trek 2009" "Lord of the Rings" or many horror or other movies made, so why not stay at home and read an Encyclopedia?

    Try to imagine "The Grey" with accurately behaving wolves, if you can without falling asleep . . . The Grey was made to entertain and perhaps to comment on man's relationship with God, nature and himself. Focusing only on the inaccurate wolf behavior in this movie is like criticizing “King Kong” because it did not accurately depict the behavior of gorillas. It is to miss the point.

    1. "Try to imagine "The Grey" with accurately behaving wolves, if you can without falling asleep"

      Funny you should mention that, because that's exactly what I did as I was watching the movie. Take for example the instance mentioned above of the danger of hypothermia, or the example you offered concerning the absolutely improbable jump across the ravine. I don't have a degree in physics, but my math matches yours- no dice.

      And that's the sad part about this movie: There are SO many ways that the Alaskan wilderness can kill you. Picking wolves doesn't even make any sense.

      Like you said, the movie should be entertaining, so I agree that you do need something to act as the pressure cooker. They should have used an animal that does attack and track humans, but maybe hollywood was out of polar bears.

    2. It doesn't matter if they don't claim that it's natural behaviour. People who know nothing about wolves watch this movie, and what they see will impact their subconscious thoughts on wolves. Why do so many people see wolves as man killers? Well, we grow up with stories like Little Red Riding Hood with its "big bad wolf", we watch movies like Narnia were the wolves are the bad guys, we have horror stories of wolves attacking people are turning them into monsters (werewolves), the list goes on. Media turns people against certain animals - snakes are another good example, they're always the bad guys in movies too.

  10. I saw this movie only because of the lead actor. I was very very disappointed to see him acting in a very fictious way. How could Liam neeson accept to work on such a storyline without doing any research. Very very disappointed with you Liam. Hope you do better movies in future.

  11. I love wolves and I enjoyed the movie - how is this possible? BECAUSE I HAVE A SUPERNATURAL ABILITY TO DISTINGUISH FACT FROM FICTION

    1. I agree, I was riveted by the movie.
      I love wolves, I know that the facts in the movie were a bunch of bull... who cares? You people out there might care,and perhaps it ruined the movie for all of you. However, it did not ruin it for me.
      I suppose I also have a supernatural ability to distinguish fact from fiction (Imagination, I also believe could describe this)

      Was the Lion King disappointing too?

  12. It is just a movie but why not figure out how create the danger and drama in a more realistic way? Like another comment says, there are many things in the Alaskan wilderness than can kill you, picking wolves that behaved like this was ridiculous. I actually would have respected the movie more, if the wolves were portrayed as some type of supernatural monsters. Instead the movie acted like they were giving a realistic portrayal of man vs nature. Very irresponsible! And the actors actually eating wolf meat in preparation for the movie seems over the top and insulting. Jack Black should have eaten some actual gorilla before making the latest King Kong movie. Obviously that would not have gone over well. But, is, in my opinion, similarly ridiculous, repugnant and just plain wrong.

  13. This was a movie, not a documentary. The story was not about the wolves. If anyone did not know the information about wolves was not true, it is all easy accessible information to obtain. The movie was about what length people will go to survive, relationships, and human nature.

  14. This could have been a decent movie. The leap a cross the chasm and wolf behavior were beyond belief. I believe the movie "Vertical Limits" had a number of those I can't believe it scenes. When I think about how wolves could have been used in this movie I think of Dances with Wolves, when the appearance of the wolf usually signified something dramatic was about to happen.

    Another such movie ( good example) was the Norwegian movie directed by Nils Gaup, "Pathfinder" a vastly superior movie to the American rehash. A raven would appear and signify the next dramatic event was about to happen. A pity this movie is not available on DVD in this country.

    Many tragic events can befall unprepared men in a northern Winter, but the use of wolves as the vehicle, was fatal for the movie.

    1. It was nice to see the wolves win for a change. Think of those few old Westerns that show the Indians winning against the white men invading the Indians' land. Perhaps the natural things deserve to win - even in ficticious movies.

  15. Just saw this movie and was happy to see wolves portrayed differently from everything I have read about them. Thanks for sharing the right review. Since long time I have been reading the reviews of Boris Wolfman , who also shares his personal thoughts on every movie that could be of help to us.