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THE BEAR

   

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015

Editor’s Note: After having been released 15 years ago on DVD in a pan-and-scan release, “The Bear” (1989) is finally getting its just due with a widescreen Blu-ray release, and it looks gorgeous. Here’s my review from the Oct. 27, 1989, Deseret News.

"The Bear" is a fascinating anthropomorphic look at a huge Kodiak, wounded by a hunter's bullet, and a young orphaned cub he befriends as they experience adventures both together and apart in the wilds of British Columbia, circa 1885.

There is very little dialogue in this film, only three human characters, and the central focus is on the two bears, remarkably trained by a Utah-based family.

And despite such other fairly successful similar efforts aimed at kids — chiefly "Benji the Hunted" and "The Adventures of Milo and Otis" — probably no one could succeed at such a venture on an adult level as well as director Jean-Jacques Annaud.

"The Bear" is very much a picture for older adolescents and adults, in terms of both mature content and the strong pro-environment message that hovers over this work (not to mention an anti-hunting message).

  

The overt messages, and some silly, cartoonish efforts to go inside the cub's head when he has nightmares and hallucinations, are the film's weakest links. At its best, "The Bear" simply allows us to follow its characters and natural narrative structure without shallow intrusions.

The story begins with the cub being orphaned when an accident occurs. The cub eventually wanders off and tries to learn to fend for itself but isn't too successful.

Then we meet the 9-foot Kodiak, along with two hunters who are tracking it. Eventually, one of the hunters aims badly and wounds the bear in the shoulder. But the Kodiak gets vengeance in an unexpected way, causing the hunters to vow to track down and kill the animal.

Soon the little cub links up with the Kodiak, though the latter is at first reluctant. And the rest of the film, more or less, has the hunters tracking the two bears while the bears try to avoid them.

 

There are the expected scenes of the bears interacting with other animals, most notably a mountain lion, some deer and a butterfly or two, along with demonstrations of survival instincts and backscratching techniques.

But on the whole, Annaud, who is best known for his incredible look at prehistoric man in "Quest for Fire" some years back, has created an amazing and quite memorable film in "The Bear." The cinematography is stunning, the setups are surprising and the performances of the bears are nothing short of mesmerizing.

Is there a category for best bear actor in the Academy Awards? They may have to invent it for this picture.

"The Bear" is rated PG for violence, a single profanity uttered by one of the hunters and an amusing scene where the smitten kodiak pursues a female bear behind a tree as the puzzled cub watches the tree shaking.