Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Grizzly 2 (1983)

A gigantic (twenty feet tall!) female Grizzly goes on a rampage after watching her cub be gutted by some crummy poacher.  And getting her leg caught in a large bear trap does nothing to sweeten her up, either.  Meanwhile, a big concert is being set up over in nearby Grover Meadow, and no one involved has any idea what’s headed their way (very, very slowly).  So, it’s up to acting Chief (of Park Rangers), Nick (Steve Innwood), Director of Bear Management, Samantha Owens (Deborah Raffin), and mad-as-a-hatter, French Canadian Grizzly hunter, Bouchard (Jonathan Rhys-Davies), to stop the animal before people who actually count start turning up dead.

André SzötsGrizzly 2 (aka Grizzly: The Concert, aka Predator: The Concert, and various other permutations thereof) is an unfinished film, so we do need to adjust our perspective on how we gauge it, if only slightly.  There is a rough (very rough) work print available on Youtube, if you fancy having a watch.  The movie is a sequel to William Girdler’s great 1976 film (which had one of the greatest film climaxes I ever witnessed as a youth), and just like that one was a riff on JAWS, this one is a riff on JAWS 2.  Grizzly 2 is much more youth-oriented and much more improbable outside of the verisimilitude of a crazed Grizzly going on a tear.  From what can be seen of the extant footage, I like to think this would have been a modest hit, but more likely than not it would have been remembered in the same breath with Jaws: The Revenge, all things considered.  The production was troubled from jump street with money issues, script issues, and special effects issues galore.  You can read about it in more detail here:  If anyone mentions the film at all, it is most likely to note that it had early appearances of Charlie Sheen and Laura Dern, as well as being the feature film debut of George Clooney (who?)  Outside of adding to three actors’ celluloid closets, though, (thanks for the nomenclature, Fangoria) they are not nearly the attraction that co-lead Deborah Foreman is to my mind, and from the quality of the video I watched, it took some work on this viewer’s part to recognize the three at all (and all in the same scene, no less).

So, what can you expect from a viewing of Grizzly 2?  Well, the sound is unmixed, and you can clearly hear actors being given dialogue cues from off camera.  This is most interesting (to me, at least) in the performance footage and scenes around the concert in general.  You can actually hear the live voices of some of the musicians (particularly a girl group made up of some fetching lasses), and they are, believe it or not, not terrible.  It would also be a good guess that Szöts or someone near to him was a big fan of Michael Jackson, because several of his tunes are used on the soundtrack in non-performance sequences for temp scoring (and I suspect these songs were played on set during filming to set the mood).   There is no foley track, so scenes that were shot MOS (aka without sync sound) are totally silent as a result.  Blank frames are inserted as placeholders for cutaways, effects shots, and so forth that I assume weren’t yet filmed (and probably never would be).  

Of course, the editing is not slick, as expected, but what can be seen leads me to believe that the story’s structure could use a lot of tightening up (according the New York Post article, the film’s caterer was hired to work on the screenplay late in the game).  In its current state, it feels like three stories that were forced together (or two being forced together by a third, if you like).  You have the odious poachers (including Jack Starrett, Charles Cyphers, and Marc Alaimo) trying to catch the mama bear in order to sell her organs to aphrodisiac merchants in San Francisco’s Chinatown while stabbing (or shooting) each other in the back.  These guys really have trust issues.  The other facet, obviously, is the concert story, which involves Chrissy (Foreman) falling for the self-involved frontman of some synth-pop band.  Neither of these moves past what we’re shown the first time the storylines are introduced.  The bear never makes an appearance at the show until the very end of the film, which surprised me since I would have figured that it would have skulked around and picked off a few crew members here and there.  In fact, the bear seems to kill people almost randomly (in other words, with no build up, no payoff, and no sympathy generation), which may work in a real world plausibility way but kind of stinks if you’re making an Animal Attack film.  The element that is supposed to tie these two together is Nick, Sam, and Bouchard’s hunt for the Grizzly, but the only time that anyone from the search shows up at the concert is when Nick appears to fawn over Chrissy, his daughter, and then let her run off to gallivant with skanky music types, and any interaction with the poachers is coincidental.  The separation of the storylines bogs the whole thing down, though it’s intended to keep the pace hopping along.  

While the bear effects were reportedly problematic, I have to say that what I saw was not awful.  There are even some decent animatronic shots of the bear as it approaches the concert grounds.  Sure, you have some laughable shots of Rhys-Davies leaping onto and stabbing a large, hair-covered, formless something, and there’s a shot of a bear arm swatting a character that reminded me distinctly of the Wampa attack from The Empire Strikes Back (and  just a little bit of the Sasquatch attacks from Snowbeast), but all things being equal, I liked what I saw and would give my eye teeth (ha, ha, ha, not really) to get a decent look at the Grizzly’s final repose.  It looks over-the-top enough to match its cinematic predecessor’s demise and original enough to satisfy the sense of wonder you go into a film like this expecting to be satiated.  The malfunctioning creature effects, which helped augment Spielberg’s opus, were very likely used here as an excuse to overdo the bear POV shots.  I find that intriguing, considering the template for how to use disadvantages to a filmmaker’s advantage had already been laid out for Szöts and company.

None of this is to say that this film couldn’t have been pulled together into a workable (and more importantly to its investors, bankable) film.  Nonetheless, any enjoyment to be gleaned from what is out there now is going to rely more on nostalgia than anything else (aerobics/calisthenics workouts for the concert employees, great character actors sinking their choppers into their one-dimensional roles and letting the blood drip down their chins, the Eighties pop music, the classic man-versus-monster finale that made movies of this ilk such a pure source of joy both in my childhood and now).  However, what the rough cut of Grizzly 2 does rather well is it gives people interested in the process of filmmaking a look at a portion of how a movie can be shaped.  It’s like being able to watch Da Vinci paint the Mona Lisa.  Okay, it’s more like watching a local starving artist paint a bowl of fruit, but I believe that we can learn from all the things we see, be they good, bad, or middling.  How we use that knowledge is what counts.

MVT:  As I said, I have a major weakness for the concert scenes and the feelings of nostalgia they give me.  I miss the Eighties.  There.  I said it.

Make or Break:  The finale, where the bear finally hits the concert works better than any other section of the film, even in this lumpy version.

Score:  5.5/10 as a viewing experience, 6.75/10 as a learning experience.          

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