Thursday, September 06, 2001

Wild America (1997)

Wild America (1997) [dir. William Dear]

Review & Biospoilers
Why this is quite possibly the worst "wildlife" movie ever made: Let's start with a story. In the 70s and 80s i was a teacher at an outdoor education facility where inner city kids came for a week to live in the "woods" and learn something useful.

Somewhere along the way someone got the idea that we should have wildlife movie nights and purchased a bunch of Marty Stouffer's wildlife films in the Wild America series. They were, in my eyes, just awful: sequences of a Peregrine catching birds on the wing, only jesses were clearly dangling from its feet thus negating it being Wild anything; a long sequence from multiple angles of a Mountain Lion chasing a Mule Deer -- widely know to have been filmed in a small enclosure -- again the magic of Marty the great wildlife cinematogapher, and slimy narrator might i add; and most egregious of all, a sequence where his narration tells us that Mountain Goats aren't always sure-footed and sometimes slip, wherein we watch a domestic goat, quite obviously thrown off a mountain ridge, come crashing down the slope.

It all made me ill, and i protested vehemently, but the still the movies were shown (although i was later given the option of not taking my students to see it -- unfortunately too many others found it to be an easy night off -- drop the kids at the movie . . .).

All right, let's fast forward a decade-and-a-half. I see ads for the movie Wild America and see some interesting footage and dutifully buy my ticket. I never snap that it has anything to do with Stouffer. Just never crossed my feeble old mind.

Well, surely you know by now that the movie is a glowing autobiographical pic about Marty and his filmmaker brothers, Mark and Marshall (and all three played the hot young girl-mag stars of the day Jonathan Taylor Thomas, Devon Sawa and Scott Bairstow), as they set off to discover Wild America as teenagers. Well, pfooey. Not only is the movie pure hokum in the big discovery department, but it's the usual Stouffer hokum anyway -- especially seeing that Mark Stouffer is the producer.

And, by the way, all three real-life Stouffer brothers have cameos in the movie. Oh boy.

I guess there's some rectitude in it in that anyone with any wild animal sense can see that they just made another movie using trained, tame animals, dozens of fat people in bear suits, and, yes, this is too good to be true -- a dime-store rubber snake being moved by a stick attached to its head. What Marty and Co. need really is a good editor and a non-bush-league-budget.

So what's the cheesiest part of the film? The flashlight-gulping animatronigator? A veritable Serengeti of bears hibernating in the summer whilst being protected by the stick-headed rubber snake? Or skinnydipping at the beach with random chics?

No, the choicest piece of work in the film, the one that will forever define the Stouffer method for me (and is based on what must be the goofiest natural history lie ever put on film, and will thankfully replace the goat on the mountain bit), is the scene with the moose.

After trying to approach a calf, youngest brother Marshall gets involved with a large, heavy-antlered moose, and brothers one and two get a laugh and a lot of footage out of it. Well, the film clip they show (besides being cut from several different angles when they only had one camera) has the most ridiculous looking moose of all time -- that's because it's a horse in a moose costume. Oh well.

I dare someone to tell me again what ground-breaking wildlife photographers Stouffer and his brothers are . . . i dare you . . .

In fact Marty's original film series is of such lasting value that you can now own all 120 episodes on DVD for only $14.95. Check it out at Marty Stouffer's Wild America Online here.


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