Official trailer for “The Grey”
The thriller “The Grey”depicts what happens after a planeload of Alyeska oil pipeline workers crash into the Alaska wilderness somewhere. Without wishing to give away too much of the “plot” here, let’s say it’s another public relations debacle for the grey wolf.
The top questions of movie-goers seem to be:
1. Where was the movie filmed?
2. Are there really wolves there?
Not a frame of the movie, it turns out, was filmed in Alaska. (This, even though critics in the state point out Alaska offers very generous credits to filmmakers.) This has some Alaskans grumbling about “The Grey” perpetuating Hollywood’s long tradition of erroneously depicting life in the state. (Wolves are also howling!) In fact, one reviewer nominated “The Grey” for inclusion on his list of the five worst cinematic depictions of Alaska. Competition in this category is fierce; the current leaders are “The Edge” (1997), “The Simpsons Movie” (2007), North to Alaska (1960), “The Proposal” (2009), “On Deadly Ground” (1994) – none of which were filmed in Alaska!
To add insult to Alaska’s perceived injury? “The Grey” was filmed entirely in British Columbia, Canada.
Principal photography was done in the city of Vancouver and the ski resort of Whistler, about 80 miles north of Vancouver. The wilderness scenes were mostly shot in Smithers – an outpost in northern British Columbia, on the road between Prince George and Prince Rupert. (Filming there was conducted in January 2011 – during a month of sub-zero temps!)
What about the wolf population there? Not much of a factor, I’m afraid. There have been reports of wildlife attacking humans in the wilds of British Columbia, but the attackers are most often moose – not wolves.
I visited Smithers – a tiny gem in the Bulkley Valley – back in 2004, on a drive from Anchorage to Seattle; I stopped to re-fuel there. A group of Harley-Davidson riders from North Carolina stopped about the same time, and we got chatting with the unusually pretty gas station attendant about wildlife in the area. The bikers had just returned from a fruitless journey to Hyder, Alaska, in search of bears feeding off the salmon run.
There were no salmon, nor bears, there.
“You want bears?” the attendant asked. “Go over to the city dump here. There are all the bears you ever want to see there.”
The bikers took note of her directions to the city dump, and rode off.
“The bears are a real problem here,” she said of Smithers, which has a population of about 5,000. “We’re surrounded by a provincial park here, so they are protected from hunters, and their numbers proliferate. There’s a lot of competition for food among them, I guess. They don’t have a lot of fear about coming down into town here and foraging for food.”
The locals don’t hesitate to blast away at them, when the bears become a nuisance. (The community does care about wildlife, though; Smithers is home to the Northern Lights Wildlife Shelter that rescues injured or orphaned wildlife.)
But what about wolves?
They exist in the wilderness around Smithers, but they don’t constitute a problem. In fact, to find wolves for the film, the film crew had to contact a trapper who sold them four wolf carcasses, for use as props – and dinner. (Yes, the actors really did eat wolf meat!)
Generally, Hollywood does a great disservice to the wolf. It is not the savage man-eating predator we see in most wolf-slasher horror films. They are a natural part of the food chain in the wilderness; they help maintain a healthy balance between herds of deer and other wildlife. They tend to run away from humans, rather than attack them. The only balanced and correct cinematic depiction of the nature of wolves that I know of was the 1983 movie “Never Cry Wolf“. Highly recommended.
That film, by the way, was actually shot in Alaska!
January 27, 2012