GRIZZLY MAN (Werner Herzog). 103 minutes. Opens Friday (September 30). For venues and times, see Movie Listings. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
To Werner Herzog , a grizzly bear is 1,200 pounds of muscle and claw. To Timothy Treadwell , grizzlies were his friends. He named one Mr. Chocolate. After 13 years cavorting in Alaska with grizzlies, Treadwell was found half-digested in the bowels of one of them. To park rangers, it was bear #141.
This is the tension at the heart of Herzog's searching, disciplined documentary. It's a portrait of an emotional man who loved grizzly bears more than people, and of the bears who responded with instincts as remorseless as math.
Herzog's long filmography revels in nature's brutal indifference, and his view of wild animals couldn't be more different from Treadwell's surfer-dude euphoria. But Herzog's narration in Grizzly Man underlines his respect for Treadwell, not as a naturalist, but as a filmmaker. Treadwell shot over 100 hours of footage in the last five years of his life, including what Herzog calls "such glorious improvised moments."
Grizzly Man works best as a psychological autopsy of a man who fell for show business early on (he screen-tested for the role on Cheers that went to Woody Harrelson), then embraced a delirious fantasy of method acting in the wild. Treadwell believed he could play the part of bears' best friend. They ate him for it.