AFI's 100 Movies

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Classic selection for the weekend of
October 1 - 3, 1999

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Never Cry Wolf

     Never Cry Wolf 

He is one of those actors who you always recognize, but never know his name. He was in Deep Impact, Speechless, The Untouchables, Starman and The Buddy Holly Story, but Charles Martin Smith will always be remembered as Ron Howard's buddy in American Graffiti. Smith has had a long and distinguished career in Hollywood. Part of his career that is not known to many people is the amazing movie, Never Cry Wolf.

In this film, the Arctic's Caribou population is rapidly dwindling, and wolves are being blamed. No one has seen a wolf kill a caribou, so authorities send Tyler (Charles Martin Smith) out into the wilderness to witness the act, so they can be justified in killing off the wolf population. Tyler is a biologist bureaucrat who fills out reports in triplicate, not a survival expert, but he accepts the assignment to satisfy his intellectual curiosity.

With a small amount of supplies, Tyler makes his way into the arctic. Unlike the world he is accustomed to, man is meaningless in this area. Other animals barely pay attention to him. In many ways, he is just another animal in the ecosystem. Worse yet, he is the freshest piece of meat for the next predator who finds him.

Every evening, he hears the wolves, but never sees them. Soon, he is having nightmares about being attacked by the wolves. One evening, a mysterious dogsledder finds his camp and moves him to a better one near the wolves. Tyler soon finds the target of his investigation, a white wolf he names George.

Tyler and George engage in a battle of wits and wills as he tries to study the wolf and his habits. He grows to respect George and hopes that it is not the wolves killing off the caribou. Once he discovers the truth, Tyler is shocked and horrified at the turn of events.

When I was in junior high school, our class watched Never Cry Wolf, after reading the original novel by Farley Mowat. Years later, I find myself having a different reaction to it. Maybe it is experience gained from additional years of life or a new appreciation for nature, but the movie is a moving investigation of man's frailty and vulnerability. Never Cry Wolf reminds us that we merely share the world with millions of other living creatures. However, we are also part of the ecosystem and must survive just like other animals.

As an actor, Smith faces a daunting task. In many scenes, he is the only human being, so he must express himself without flowing lines of dialogue. I enjoyed his performance, especially his "interaction" with George. Watch his moment of realization once Tyler has discovered what is causing the extermination of the caribou and wolves. It is an amazing plot twist.

Screenwriters Curtis Hanson and Sam Hamm deserve praise for that unexpected plot twist. I was also impressed because the movie clearly encourages viewers to have more respect for nature, but doesn't take a sanctimonious tone. The message comes through clearly without long speeches and denigration of other characters.

Another wonderful aspect to the movie is its cinematography. The entire movie was filmed in British Columbia, which provides breathtaking views of land never touched by man. I imagine the movie was even more stunning on the big screen. Some movies suffer when they move from the big screen to the little screen due to a high reliance on special effects, but this movie doesn't have that problem. It is still startling on my 19-inch television.

Never Cry Wolf: A-

Directed by Carroll Ballard

Written by Curtis Hanson and Sam Hamm

Charles Martin Smith ……………………………. Tyler

Brian Dennehy …………………………………..  Rosie

Samson Jorah …………………………………… Mike

Zachary Ittimangnae ……………………………..  Ootek

Copyright 1999 -