Saturday, September 3, 2011

Project Grizzly (1996)

Sink your teeth into this Canadian documentary.

Project Grizzly generously offers what Hollywood too often doesn't in a sea of reboots, remakes and sequels.

This National Film Board documentary presents an original story with a lead character who'll stick in your brain for a very long time.

Troy Hurtubise survives an encounter with a grizzly he dubs Old Man.

Rather than resolve to stay miles away from the bush and a big bear's territory, the North Bay, Ont., resident decides to design a bear-proof suit.

This isn't just a weekend whim.

Hurtubise's project spans years, tens of thousands of dollars and continually updated suits. There's footage of him being hurled down the Niagara Escarpment and being plowed into by a pickup truck doing 30 miles an hour. To mimic the swipe of a grizzly bear's paw, an elevated 300 to 400 pound log smashes into Hurtubise and his suit. "I feel great," he says after getting whacked. The suit bears the brunt of baseball bats, gunshots and bows.

This slim, 72-minute documentary from Canada builds up to an excursion to the Rockies so Hurtubise can test the suit in an up-close encounter with a real big bruin.

Project Grizzly works for plenty of reasons.

Hurtubise is a fascinating character. He graduated from community college as a natural resource technologist, but couldn't find work in his field (pardon the pun). Instead, he owns a scrapyard.

He's big on martial arts, wears a buckskin jacket and extols the virtues of carrying very large knives into the bush. Yes, they can be used to ward off a bear but Hurtubise also suggests he is concerned about "the two-legged animals" he might find in the bush.

"You got a lot of wackos out there," he says. "I swear by my knives."

I'm not sure if that's supposed to be comforting or disturbing.

There's a couple of neat scenes with Hurtubise and his mother. She recalls his fascination with
being in really dangerous circumstances as a youngster. Plenty of kids have built plenty of faux volcanoes to replicate an eruption. Hurtubise did too except he used gasoline and started a fire in his bedroom. This is a guy who acknowledges his greatest fear is being average. He drams of becoming "a little Jacques Cousteau" and travel the world with his suit and research team.

Hurtubise notes matter-of-factly the worst thing that could happen to him in another one-on-one with a grizzly is he could die. Why, yes Troy, you could get mauled to death if the suit fails.

A Vietnam veteran who's part of Hurtubise's posse recounts a game bored G.I.s played to get the adrenaline flowing. Pull the pin of a hand grenade and run. Hurtubise isn't the only one who goes to extremes to get his kicks.

He finds his bear in the snowy Rockies, but you'll have to watch the film to see what happens.

Project Grizzly offers more fun than watching bears at your local dump.

RATING: 8 out of 10

FUN FACTS: Wyeth Clarkson, assistant picture editor, went on to direct SK8 life. Director Peter Lynch has also helmed A Whale of a Tale and Cyberman. Troy Hurtubise and his suit were featured on Ripley's Believe It or Not. Project Grizzly was nominated for a Genie (Canada's equivalent of the Academy Awards) for best feature length documentary.

No comments: