Some people are just odd. Not crazy, mind you, just odd.
North Bay, Ontario resident, scrap metal business owner, martial artist, and self styled frontiersman Troy Hurtubise was walking through the woods one day in the 80's when he suddenly came face to face with a grizzly. The bear knocked him down but, obviously, chose not to maul him to death. Since then, Troy has followed a very peculiar dream, to build a suit capable of withstanding a bear attack that he can use in his "close quarters bear research."
Troy is a strange one. Usually dressed in a buckskin Davy Crockett jacket with Bowie knives sheathed on his shoulder and hip, Troy has sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into making various versions of his Ursus grizzly bear protection suit, the latest version of which, Ursus Mark VI, resembles something between a Turkish sci fi movie robot and one of those suits guys get in so women self defense classes can pound on them and scream "Let go of my purse!" His buddies seem to be the sort who like long hunting trips to escape their wives and surely have subscriptions to multiple gun magazines. You definitely get the sense of them being along for the ride, happy to help out, but Troy is probably the only one who fully understands his motivations. Not that he doesn't talk at length about his connection to the wilderness and such, it is just that it all doesn't quite make sense. What he lacks in logic, he makes up for with passion.
Perhaps the most compelling footage is a montage of home videos Troy and his buddies took of the various prototypes being tested. If you aren't a stranger to those video shows like Maximum Exposure or Real TV then odds are you have seen the footage too. While in the suit, Troy has arrows shot at him, huge battering ram logs swung into him, trucks hitting him, and even takes nasty spills down steep mountainous inclines. It is hilarious, and more so by the fact that Troy tries to lend scientific credibility to the tests by saying, with a straight face, that the arrows simulate the claws and teeth of a bear, so if the suit can withstand an arrow, it can withstand the bear.
A self styled mix of wannabe Jacques Cousteau, MacGuyver, and Grizzly Adams, Troy is a well-spoken guy, obliviously has a good deal of money if he can spend hundreds of thousands on various bear suits, he has a wife (to my knowledge, she isn't seen in the doc) and son, and circle of friends, so he is not by any means mentally deficient or so deluded he cannot maintain normal life. He is in the best sense what they used to call touched, a bonafide eccentric.
Documentarian Peter Lynch has a golden subject in Troy. While there are hints of Troy's background, slight possible clues into why he does what he does, Project Grizzly (1996) doesn't really dig very deep. Troy's retelling of his encounter with the bear, who he calls "the old man", is told with classic tall tale embellishment and you get the sense that is how Troy would like to picture his life. After all, his is a world where he steadfastly believes there are still wild mountain men he may have to engage in a knife fight with. Troy's main motivation seems to be driven by some kind of mortal fear of bears, because while he says he respects bears as magnificent creatures, he also readily regards them as potential man-eaters. Though he claims he wants to get close and research them, what wild bear out in the middle of the woods would remain unphased at the sight of the Mark VI lumbering toward it like some low rent Robbie the Robot? Personally, I think Troy is begging to be attacked, just so he can prove the suit serves its, or should I say, his, purpose.
But what more do you really need to know? He's a man in a bear suit, and he also claims he is claustrophobic!
The films finale sums it up nicely. Just days after a mother grizzly with cub has attacked a handful of campers in the area, Troy and crew head out into the remote Canadian Rockies on a week long test of the Mark VI. They quickly find what should have been obvious, the Mark VI is so bulky, the most Troy can manage is a pathetic waddle. He cannot make it over the slightest incline or rough patch of dirt without falling over, and, to top things off, the suit is so heavy, it takes at least two or three guys to then lift him up. Frustrated, Troy is still unfettered in pursuing his dream. What that is exactly, is kinda' tough to say. Still, it is the kind of story so odd, funny, and somehow strangley uplifting, it is hard to believe it is real. It is the tale of one man's search for justification of his peculiar yet fascinating dream.
The DVD: Micro Films
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. A small documentary feature, so there isn't much pizazz to the image. Basic doc stuff, sometimes slightly grainy and soft. Still, the image transfer appears quite good, nice color details, contrast, and, despite some roughness on the print, very technically sound.
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 channels. Good audio. Again very basic stuff. The score is a tad transparent. The recording of the voices varies, it sometimes echoes the distance of the camera, so the interview stuff is quite clear while the observational footage (from long distances) can get a little more indistinct.
Extras: Booklet with directors statement (not in my screener so I cannot comment)— Six Outtakes with optional directors commentary.— Feature length Commentary by director Peter Lynch. Now, this is a revelation. Makes the film worth watching twice. All of those little questions you have about what Troy is really like, just how much of a manly man is he?, just how much is he playing to the camera?, are answered.--- Feature length Commentary by critics Richard Crouse (Reel to Reel) and Geoff Pevere (Toronto Star, Reel to Reel). Coming from two critics who obviously like the film, the tone of the commentary is borderline sycophantic.
Conclusion: While Project Grizzly may be a bit deficient in presenting a well-defined portrait of its subject, the subject, or should I say, the man, is engaging enough to make for unforgettable viewing. The total DVD package is well-rounded, offering a nice presentation and extras.