Project Grizzly

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Has Don Quixote been reincarnated as a Canadian? The National Film Board of Canada seems to think so. In the past year alone, it has produced two films about gentlemen from northern Ontario engaged in expensive, inexplicably dangerous hobbies that speak as much of their devotion to a dream as their strength of character to stay with it.

Years ago, scrap metal dealer Troy Hurtubise was on a camping trip when he ran across a grizzly. Instead of attacking, the bear stared him down and then headed off, leaving Hurtubise to contemplate his close encounter of the fur kind. A bit too deeply, if one is to judge by the scads of money, time and pain Hurtubise invests in the creation of a destruction-proof grizzly suit to tempt the fates again, this time with a bit of insurance.

Director Peter Lynch follows the engaging Hurtubise from his scrap yard to the drafting table to various testing venues, including a long drop off the Niagara Escarpment and a visit to a biker bar where drunken hoods are invited to give the suit their best shot. In a sequence of unique Canadian poignancy, we watch Hurtubise and his motley entourage checking the design of armor against the masterpieces of Hollywood thrillers such as Robocop and Terminator II and deciding that they've gone one step better.

The most compelling aspect of the production is Lynch's sly subversion of nature film conventions. The focus is on man, not beast. And Hurtubise is no ordinary man, despite the bumpkin dialect, the gee-whiz attitude and the greaser hairdo. He's fearless, a true adventurer whose senses have not been dulled by routine or fear. Lynch shows respect, despite the little flourishes of insider jokes, like the twangy, Ennio Morricone-inspired sound track. He makes us laugh at the antics of Hurtubise, but never at the man himself.

So as we watch the grizzly suit hang from a helicopter on its way to the Rockies where Hurtubise is once again to meet his opponent on its turf, we think not of the absurd but the heroic. A dead-end heroism perhaps. But sometimes greatness comes from the attempt to conquer something simply because we know it's out there. Waiting to disappoint.

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