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Film review: 'Grizzly Man' compels audiences

It documents animal activist's extraordinary life and death

The late animal activist Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard in Alaska in "Grizzly Man."
The late animal activist Timothy Treadwell and Amie Huguenard in Alaska in "Grizzly Man."
Willy Fulton

GRIZZLY MAN — *** 1/2 — Documentary feature about late animal activist Timothy Treadwell; directed and narrated by Werner Herzog; rated R (profanity, violence, brief drugs, brief gore, vulgarity).

At one point in the documentary feature "Grizzly Man," Timothy Treadwell is seen commenting on his proximity to grizzly bears, as he jokes that "I can smell death all over my fingers."

Hearing — and seeing — the late animal activist talk about his possible death at the claws and teeth of the grizzlies that he loved so much is chilling. Director/narrator Werner Herzog's compelling look at Treadwell and his life is filled with such haunting moments.

Using 100 hours' worth of videotape "diaries," as well as some of Treadwell's personal diaries, Herzog paints a vivid portrait of Treadwell who, along with girlfriend Amie Huguenard, was killed and eaten by a starving grizzly in October 2003.

Treadwell's death was not wholly unexpected, considering that he spent 13 summers living with bears and other wildlife on the Alaskan peninsula, becoming increasingly detached from human relationships. (Even his relationship with Huguenard is rumored to have been strained prior to their deaths.)

Several of Treadwell's friends, including pilot Willy Fulton — the first person to find Treadwell and Huguenard's remains — comment on his state of mind and unique personality. And so do some of his detractors, such as Alaskan businessman Sam Egli (who should be ashamed for ridiculously insensitive comments about Treadwell possibly "asking for it").

Admittedly, the film does ramble on a bit. A scene in which the coroner offers his version of the events leading up to their deaths — and also offers insights into Treadwell's personality — does seem a bit odd. (Thankfully, Herzog doesn't use the audio-tape document of the fatal bear attack.)

Treadwell emerges as a compelling figure, even when his childlike babbling at the bears sounds like the sound of the affirmations offered by the Stuart Smalley character on TV's "Saturday Night Live."

Also, some of the breathtaking, in-the-wild scenes shot by Treadwell — which include a fight between two grizzly males — show that, in another life, he could have had a career as a wildlife documentarian.

"Grizzly Man" is rated R for frequent use of strong sexual profanity, animal violence (bears fighting), some brief drug content (discussion of marijuana use), some brief gore (glimpses of animal remains), and some vulgar references to animal bodily functions. Running time: 103 minutes.