Wolves always get a bad rap. Bedtime stories say they eat grandmothers, blonde girls in red capes, and little pigs who make bad choices in housing materials. Their beady, glowing eyes and mournful howls inspire nightmares and myths. And, according to Neil Jordan's bizarre fairy-tale-as-erotica film The Company of Wolves, wolves disguise themselves as men with unibrows ready to shed their human skins for a romp in the woods under the light of a full moon.
Unfortunately for the misunderstood canines, settlers took those legends with them to the New World, where they divided the prairie with fences and forced the wolves, buffalo, and Native American tribes to near extinction in the name of Manifest Destiny. Wolves, a new IMAX film funded by the National Wildlife Federation, glances at this past but focuses instead on how humans are helping wolves today. The Nez Perce tribe, whose members were forced from their Idaho homes and imprisoned, is reintroducing the wolves into the wild, including Yellowstone National Park. They measure, tag, and track wolves, and have a conservation center where they teach children about the importance of understanding wolves and their place in the environment. Likewise, a couple takes the orphaned wolf they adopted to schools to counteract the fairy tales the children learn.
Unlike many IMAX films that show off the abilities of their fancy cameras by soaring through the air and over landscapes, Wolves gets close to its subjects. Scenes are shot in a wolf's den where pups are born, nurtured, and eventually taken out to join the rest of the pack. The film also shows wolves chasing, and occasionally catching, their prey. It's humorous when ox and bears outsmart the wolves, but it can be gruesome when they don't. Wolves doesn't shy away from the violence. This isn't Disney's "Circle of Life" from The Lion King, even if it does have a catchy nuevo Native American soundtrack with chants set to techno beats.
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Wolves also explains that things haven't changed that much. Ranchers protest the reintroduction of wolves in their area because they fear for their families and cattle. But that's one of the film's themes: Wolves are willing to live in harmony with man, but man isn't willing to live with wolves. The images of cross-dressing wolves eating little girls with picnic baskets still overshadow reality.