Sunday, December 17, 2017

The Savage Wild (1970)

         During the late ’60s and early ’70s, naturalist Gordon Eastman served as actor, cinematographer, director, and/or producer while making several pictures about life in Wyoming and the Yukon. Some were marketed as documentaries and some were sold as fiction films, but if The Savage Wild is any indication, Eastman favored a hybrid style in which he fabricated scenes he wasn’t able to capture organically. Clearly, Eastman possessed some skill and tenacity, because The Savage Wild contains competently shot vignettes of animals frolicking in wilderness. Just as clearly, however, he lacked a distinctive point of view. In its dullest moments, The Savage Wild plays like an anemic imitation of countless similar pictures from Disney. And in its most exciting moments, of which there are precious few, The Savage Wild comes across like a shameless knockoff of Farley Mowat’s 1963 book Never Cry Wolf. (The real screen adaptation of Never Cry Wolf, released in 1983 by Disney, is one of the greatest outdoor films of all time.)
          Dragging along for 103 harmless but tiresome minutes, The Savage Wild mostly records Eastman’s attempts to raise wolf pups in captivity for vaguely scientific reasons. Over the course of the movie, he captures, nurtures, and releases two sets of wolves, occasioning lots of aww-inducing scenes of cute puppies growling and playing. Clumsily grafted onto the picture are badly acted dramatic scenes in which Eastman clashes with a professional wolf hunter, though the implied threat the hunter poses to the pups never materializes. Much of the film features post-production sound layered onto silent footage, so if you find Eastman’s narration dull, your patience will be tested. However, if the occasional glimpse of caribou coupling sounds interesting, The Savage Wild is for you. FYI, the other movies comprising Eastman’s quasi-fictional oeuvre are Never Look Back (1973) and Free as the Wind (1974), while his pure documentaries are High, Wild and Free (1968) and Trail of the Wild (1974).

The Savage Wild: FUNKY

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