Never Cry Wolf

Theatrical Release: October 14, 1983 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Carroll Ballard

Cast: Charles Martin Smith (Farley Mowat), Brian Dennehy (Rosie), Zachary Ittimangnaq (Ootek), Samson Jorah (Mike)

THE 1980s were a decade that gave us such hits as An American Werewolf in London and Teen Wolf, plus the indelible image of Tom Cruise howling along to "Werewolves of London" while hustling pool halls in The Color of Money. It was with this irrelevant knowledge that I was looking forward to Disney's 1983 film Never Cry Wolf.

Of course, it should be noted that Never Cry Wolf isn't at all about werewolves. It is about arctic wolves, as written and lived by Farley Mowat. Mowat accepted a position from the Canadian government to investigate if the arctic region's drastic decline in caribou could be attributed to wolves eating them. It's a strange job to volunteer for - agreeing to spend six months all alone in the extreme Arctic environment attempting to observe wild animals, but that is where our protagonist finds himself.

Playing the Mowat character is Charles Martin Smith, who's probably still best known for playing Terry "the Toad" in American Graffiti thirty years ago, but in the decades since has had various other roles, including the director of Disney's Air Bud. Smith has a sincerity to him, that makes his character seem credible, and allows this individual to carry the events of the film. He doesn't have the starpower or acting talent of Tom Hanks, and yet with only the mystical Arctic scenery, he does an excellent job at carrying a compelling story mostly by himself.

The first half of the film, the vast Arctic landscape is explored and while it's strange, it works and is interesting and good. Certain elements called to mind some of the better films in recent years -- Cast Away in its depiction of vast isolation and Memento with its matter-of-fact voiceover narration.

Charles Martin Smith tortures a mouse in "Never Cry Wolf"

Once a native turned up, I feared the mystical, wise old man stereotype coming into play - and fortunately, it didn't settle for that. The character of Ootek mostly just flashes a big grin (which illustrates the lack of dentistry in the wild) and an all-knowing headshake, in spite of the fact that he doesn't speak English.

In its second half, the film weakenes as it resorts to formulaic devices and plots its protagonist against the civilized world. Brian Dennehy plays a crazed pilot who attempts to cure boredom with mid-air oil changes. When his character resurfaces near the end of the film, he is excessively obnoxious. True, this may just be the distortion of a researcher who's been alone in the arctic encountering just two other humans and a variety of wild animals.

Or it could just be the mice speaking - as Farley eats cooked mice to see if the wolves can live just on that. These gross scenes are countered with the second half of the film, which has far more nudity than it should. It doesn't particularly further the plot at all and I don't think anyone takes pleasure in seeing Charles Martin Smith's rear and genitalia.

Never Cry Wolf is an odd movie - and I really found the atmospheric first half magnetically engaging. Though I can see where some would classify these parts as 'slow' or 'boring', the film works best when the lead is dropped in the Canadian wilderness and it keeps it basic. The plot elements that come to frutition in the last half-hour do weaken the film, and seem out of place. I couldn't connect with the change in tone and that is why I don't feel as strongly about it overall. Sometimes, atmosphere can be more effective than plot, and this film is the perfect example.


DVD Details

Available in 2 separate editions:
1.33:1 Pan & Scan
1.85:1 Non-anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: None
Not Closed Captioned
Release Date: June 20, 2000
Single-sided, single-layered disc (DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99



This was a rental, and much to my chagrin, was the Fullscreen DVD from Anchor Bay. Why Anchor Bay re-released two separate volumes when they had a perfectly fine dual-format disc out originally - I don't know. But presenting films in ratios they weren't framed for, to put it bluntly, sucks. Films from the '80s seem to have received fullscreen DVD treatment more so than the two decades of widescreen cinema before or after.

Zachary Ittimangnaq as Ootek in "Never Cry Wolf"

Aside from the fact that the film relies heavily on visuals, which are compromised in "fullscreen", the transfer isn't particularly good. It is clear but it lacks sharpness and detail. It has a really low bitrate, too. It's not unwatchable or anything, but I'd suspect the widescreen edition looks a lot better - and of course, the film will look better in its original widescreen aspect ratio, too.

The film doesn't use audio much, since much of the film is about quiet solitude and isolation in nature, though the nature is underrepresented aurally. The 2.0 soundtrack isn't too hot - the two native characters are often tough to understand, and a number of other characters are as well - the audio just hasn't been mixed very well and while it probably wasn't the most high-tech audio tracks to begin with, it should be more distinguishable than this. Not a huge deal, though.


The menu has two options - "Chapter Selection" and "Play." That is all.


Hopefully Disney's inevitable release of their film will be better than this featureless, fullscreen, and universally underwhelming Anchor Bay disc. If you can't wait, then you must really like the film, in which case you should buy the satisfyingly low-priced (albeit low quality) widescreen DVD. Otherwise, I'd recommend a rental.

Buy from
Widescreen & Fullscreen DVD (out of print)
Widescreen Edition

Other Media Referenced in this Review:

An American Werewolf in London Teen Wolf The Color of Money Werewolves of London
An American
in London

(Collector's Edition)
Teen Wolf /
Teen Wolf Too

(1985, 1987)
(Double Feature)
The Color
of Money

Excitable Boy
Warren Zevon,
features "Werewolves
of London"

Ultimate Guide to Disney DVD Home
Live Action (1980-Present) Home
DVD Review Index