In an animal kingdom that features many characters, few would argue that bears are the most fascinating. From the diminutive Sun Bear to the massive Kodiak and Polar Bears, there are many variations among these mammals. There are also many variations in documentaries about bears. There’s even a Disney documentary appropriately titled Bears coming out this Friday. Here are five Pocket Ranger® blog picks, and an honorable mention for a fictional bear movie!
1. Grizzly Man (2005)
It’s unfortunate that people fear bear attacks so much, because for the most part bears are solitary and peaceful creatures that possess many unique and even human qualities. Still, bear attacks do happen, and it’s the brutal maiming of animal documentarian and preservationist Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend Amie Huguenard that is the centerpiece of Werner Herzog’s excellent 2005 documentary Grizzly Man. While the movie goes into length about Treadwell’s life and lengthy time spent living amongst bears in Katmai National Park and Preserve in Alaska, it also provides insight into bear behavior, what provokes bear attacks, and why extensive physical contact with bears in the wild is bad on many levels. Despite Treadwell’s good intentions, his work is now punctuated with this cautionary tale.
2. Project Grizzly (1996)
This offbeat documentary is also about a bear attack, though the major difference between this and Grizzly Man is that the man survives and makes it his life goal to build an armored suit so that he may one day battle a grizzly bear. Directed by Peter Lynch, this National Film Board of Canada documentary focuses on Troy Hurtubise and his project. It also goes into length about how his research and testing of the suit over the years has allowed him to study bears at length, and how he now possesses a desire to study them rather than fighting them. Still, you’ll have to check this film out to find out if he steps into the ring with a grizzly! It’s a funny yet sincere film about a man’s passion and dream.
3. Polar Bear: Spy on the Ice (2010)
This BBC documentary puts you within a paw’s swipe of the massive Polar Bear. Utilizing remote-controlled spy cameras that are blended in with their surroundings, the documentarians manage to get some amazing footage of several different polar bear families as they go about raising their cubs. Narrated by former Doctor Who star David Tennant, this documentary will provide entertainment for polar bear fans and newbies alike!
4. The Edge of Eden: Living With Grizzlies (2007)
This documentary is also about a man living amongst grizzly bears, but practicing more caution than Timothy Treadwell. Charlie Russell wrote about his experiences in the book Grizzly Heart, so this movie acts as an expansion as well as a companion piece to that. This film details Russell’s extensive preservation efforts and grizzly bear studies. An informative and fascinating film.
5. MonsterQuest: Giant Bear Attack (2008)
Monster Quest is a TV show that airs on the History Channel. This 15th episode of season 2 takes a look at how big bears may be getting more assertive and aggressive, which ties into their look-back at monstrously massive prehistoric bears that appear to have been much more aggressive predators. The series also goes into environmental factors like humans moving into bear-inhabited land that would explain the bears’ aggressiveness. A foreboding segment of the episode even speculates on hybridization and breeding experiments that could introduce a close approximation of giant prehistoric bears back into our modern world.
Honorable Mention: The Bear (1988)
The Bear is a fantastic French film directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud. Starring two live bears, this film is an adaptation of the James Oliver Curtwood novel The Grizzly King. While it’s supposed to take place in 19th century British Columbia, the movie was actually filmed in parts of Austria and Italy. It is the tale of an orphaned bear cub who befriends an adult male grizzly that eventually comes around to the cub and teaches him how to hunt and survive. An award winning film with a minimal score and dialogue, it’s a wonderful story that fully utilizes nature—the best special effect of all—as a narrative tool.
Many of these documentaries can be watched for free online so seek them out!