Talkback: Does PETA Have a Legitimate Beef With The Grey?

Joe Carnahan probably knew he was in for something of a tussle when his latest film, the survival actioner/mortality meditation The Grey, began drawing criticism from animal activist groups sight unseen even before it debuted (at #1, no less) last weekend. But then PETA posted its own twofold complaint regarding the depiction of wolves in the film and the reported eating of wolf meat on Carnahan’s set, escalating the anti-Grey fight. The question is, does PETA have a legit beef with The Grey?

In a blog entry posted to the official PETA website, the organization blasts Carnahan on two fronts for being “rotten to wolves from the get-go.” First, the more general grievance: The Grey, they say, makes wolves look bad.

“The writers paint a pack of wolves living in the Alaskan wilderness as bloodthirsty monsters, intent on killing every survivor of a plane crash by tearing each person limb from limb,” claims PETA, when in actuality wolves “shy away from” humans.

Carnahan’s film (scripted by Ian MacKenzie Jeffers from his own short story) takes fairly diligent measures to portray its wolves as agents of nature, dangerous to be sure but with their own reasons for attacking Liam Neeson’s Ottway and his fellow oil rig workers. They’re glimpsed in the dark all glowing eyes and howling breaths and are seen tearing unfortunate victims to bloody pieces, but are they “monsters,” or simply animals acting on their natural impulses to defend their territory from encroaching human invaders?

Speaking earlier this month in Los Angeles, Carnahan explained his take on the wolves of The Grey. “I think the wolves are a facet of and thereby a force of nature, but they’re no different in my mind than the river, than the blizzard, than the cliffside,” he said. “They are component parts of a whole, which is nature. And for all of its beauty there’s equal parts hostility.”

To this end, every front facing the men of The Grey has the potential for death – the blizzard conditions that fell their airplane, the freezing cold, the river, the harsh terrain. A polar bear, cut from the film, was to have posed a similar threat. Its inclusion may have slightly lessened the weight of the wolves as the film’s only animal foes, but the theme remains the same: It’s not that these things are evil, but that man – stripped of his weapons and the trappings of civilization -- can only infringe so far on the dominion of nature and its creatures. Watch The Grey and you come away with a deep respect for these animals and their somewhat anthropomorphized qualities – their intricate pack relations, capacity for loss, and sense for what one character intimates as revenge. Man’s folly is in thinking himself above mortality.

Besides: If Carnahan wanted to vilify wolves as his film's antagonists, a la sharks in Jaws, that would be a matter of creative license. Do you see the Syfy Channel attacked for propagating irresponsible messages about Mega Snakes and Sharktopi?

Verdict on this count: Carnahan 1, PETA 0.

PETA’s other contention is a bit trickier. According to reports, Carnahan flew in a batch of frozen wolf meat for his cast to munch, Method-style, in preparation for a scene in the film. “[Carnahan] bought the meat from a trapper, meaning that the wolves likely suffered horribly in traps before being killed,” wrote PETA, calling this move a reneging on a promise by the filmmakers to “use only computer-generated imagery and animatronic wolves.” [UPDATE: The Province spoke to trapper Dick McDiarmid for his account of providing wolf carcasses to the production.]

Taking to Twitter, Carnahan shot back. “To suggest otherwise is cheap and uninformed,” he wrote in just one of a series of Tweets on the matter. “Not a single animal was harmed for the making of this film.” [UPDATE: Carnahan Tweeted directly to Movieline to clarify in plain terms: "...There was no trapping or hunting. We didn't harm a single wolf in the making of this film."]

And this: “Guys, I donate $100 a month to the Humane Society to prevent canned hunting of all kinds. Protestors. Look up my records & SHUT THE FUCK UP.”

Colorful language aside, Carnahan insists that no animals were harmed in the making of the film, but does he escape culpability if said animals were trapped and killed prior to filming by third parties, then utilized in the service of the film? Even if Carnahan didn’t buy the wolf meat to order – if it was in “some guy”’s basement freezer for six months before the cast of The Grey chowed down, having ostensibly been killed for practical reasons – is Carnahan culpable for supporting the kill after the fact?

Here's a note from the American Humane Association (via Box Office Magazine), which did send a certified representative to observe filming but conspicuously did not lend its “No Animals Were Harmed” seal of approval to the credits roll, explaining the omission:

“American Humane Association monitored the live animal action during the filming of The Grey. Our Certified Animal Safety RepresentativeTM on the set of the movie ensured the humane treatment of all of the animals used in this film. The movie does not however carry the American Humane Association "No Animals Were Harmed"® end-credit certification. Our process in awarding the end-credit includes a screening of the locked motion picture, which we were not given. Productions must be screened to determine cohesiveness with all of our on-set documentation.”

As for the wolf meat accusations, AHA had this to add: “Online allegations regarding the consumption of wolf meat by cast members of The Grey, have not been verified and sources within the production and distribution entities have not returned our phone calls of inquiry. American Humane Association does not permit the trapping and/or killing of any animals for use in filmed entertainment.”

Most AHA animal monitoring concerns the use of living animals in productions, but they do have guidelines regarding the use of dead animals, essentially requiring proper documentation and receipts for transactions that proves the animals were "destroyed in the normal course of the source’s operations and were not killed for the production."

So Movieliners, let’s hash this one out. Does PETA have legit ground to stand on with either or both of their complaints against The Grey, or was Carnahan right when he Tweeted the following to his critics: “Wolfaboo wackos. Your insane rants about us killing wolves only makes the movie more of a curiosity and thus, more successful. Keep it up!”?

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  • David Cole says:

    Jaws was only a movie and yet it inadvertently inspired a massive increase in the hunting and killing of sharks - Peter Benchley was horrified.

    the wolf situation is a tipping point and a similar response to 'the grey' would be catastrophic.

    you're able to see the film for what it is - entertainment with suspension of disbelief. that's a balanced and intelligent perspective that not everybody is capable of sharing.

    and buying carcasses from a trapper is a direct endorsement of animal cruelty

    • Patrick Hallstein / McEvoy-Halston says:

      If Jaws inspired a massive increase in the hunting and killing of sharks, it wasn't "only" anything. I think there are some people out there who want to keep insisting that movies are like steet performers, something clearly a part of but still mostly an ephemeral component of life -- nothing to be taken TOO seriously, for it being at best a slight nudge away from your everyday concerns. I think you make clear that they can be very important reality demarcators, cementers, "places" where we perhaps primarily establish how we're going to interact with the rest of the world, engage with every other part of our everyday lives. Thanks for your concern over the movie, David.

    • Cairn says:

      You're right David. The idea of rogue shark behavior caused massive shark culling around the Hawaiian Islands. And the sensitive issue of de-listing wolves and "wolf management" will not be helped by demonizing wolves. By the way, the International Wolf Center nominated this movie for the 2012 Scat Award. This award will go to whatever source of media that does the best job of misinforming the public about wolves.

      Hopefully most people will view this movie as goofy entertainment, and not take it seriously.

  • Michael says:

    I think it's wonderful that PETA is doing their part to save the reputation of computer generated wolves. I am disappointed, however, that they did not run to the rescue of the computer generated wolves in Underworld. Technically, they are not wolves, but they are animals and they were depicted as lower class animals. When are we going to see a movie that portrays computer generated wolves fairly?! Go PETA!

  • Ivan says:

    If PETA are against it, I'm definitely going to see this movie. They stopped working for the good of animals a long time ago and have been hijacked by a radical fringe and the woefully misinformed.

  • Michael Bloecher says:

    What is beyond dispute is the revolting stupidity of the filmmakers. The notion that eating wolf meat would "prepare" the actors for a scene in which they eat wolf meat is ridiculous. God forbid Liam Neeson should ever play a serial killer. My respect for the entire profession has plummeted, and I wouldn't watch "The Grey" on a bet.

    • Patrick Hallstein says:

      I don't think it was eating wolf meat that was thought to be good prep -- I think, rather, that it was eating of slain WOLF. The key was in removing the processed, and engaging the visceral and "real": man vs. animal. It's immoral, but it could have lead to better performances.


    Unfortunately too many people cannot look at it as "just a movie". This is particularly the case when you use real creatures to portray something that is more like a monster. So many people are already ignorant to the fact that wolves pose little danger to humans and really this is because they have been posed as villains for hundreds of years. I agree with David completely, the wolves have it hard enough right now without us making movies to make them out to be giant, blood thirsty killing machines.

  • joD says:

    Okay, PETA and all other "no frozen meat for food on movie sets"-freaks! How different are chickens, pigs, cows and lambs as food items, delivered to movie sets for staff food? Are these animals NOT worthy of being protected, huh? Or fish? I think I go with the director: S T F U already!

  • Fishstick says:

    Who cares if he ate wolf meat. A wolf is no more magical or special than a cow, pig or chicken.

    And if this movie makes stupid people want to go out and kill wolves, well too bad. People shouldn't be prevented from making movies because of stupid people out there. And it is not like it is unrealistic to imagine a hungry wolf pack stalking weakened humans. Even pet dogs have killed and eaten people.

    • irene says:

      yeah you're right, i mean who cares if animal activists would all go and beat you with a stick right now. You are no more magical or special than a cow, pig or chicken, right?

  • Dentt42 says:

    I can't even guess why real wolf carcasses were even remotely necessary as props.

    Cows, chickens, pigs, etc. are bred by the millions, they're not a threatened species. I'd also like to know how many of those that make a point to be uncaring about killing a wolf would be ok if they simply killed a dog and used its carcass instead.

  • isaiah says:

    wow...i mean just wow...would you really kill a healthy wolf so that the actors would "have a sense of the movie we were making."?!? so if they would make a film about cannibalism then we should also allow them to kill a healthy human?!?

  • barth gimble says:

    I walked out on this movie because it was just plain stupid.
    The creatures depicted in the movie were called wolves but in no way did they act like real wolves and the robotic wolves looked like robotic wolves. I was actually pissed off at myself for having spent the money. I'm not sure how much damage this movie will do to the wolf population because anyone who buys into this crap probably never gets within hundreds of miles of a real, non robotic wolf. If someone actually ate a wolf in the making of this movie I'd have yet more proof that the movie's makers and actors are just plain nuts or stupid, I mean WTF!

  • Ranger56 says:

    Mr. Gimble, did you walk out of Mission Impossible 4 or any of the other mindless crap put out by Hollywood lately? What a barf. I watch 3-4 movies a week being that I work in an isolated location and I found, 'The Grey' to be immensely inspirational with is layers of examination of the human conditions of despair, fear, irrationality, sense of superiority, assumed primacy and living under an uncaring God. The wolves were simply one of the mediums of threat; like the sub zero temperatures, the cliff and the river. Human frailty and our vulnerability in the face of nature and final personal redemtion was the movies' message as each hard-ass oil rigger came face to face with his mortality and reached out for human connection. So what if wolves were vilified. Not a month goes by that I don't read about 'little loving snuggapoo,' a 60 pound pit bull somewhere suddenly ripping out the throat of his owner or a toddler. A plane crashes in a wolf pack's hunting terriority and spews bleeding dead bodies all over the terrain and all you bleating sheep cannot fathom how they might go into a blood attack and eat fenzy or exhibit their natural pack tendancy to defend their marked space?! Wolves attack moose and bears and those animals can easily kills wolves. You don't think our clawless and fangless and slow running pink white meat butts would be attractive to wolves. I have never lived around wolves but I have spent my life around alligators and even had one for a pet. They are 95% human avoidance and lethargic. But that other 5% is a bitch...ask the two women eaten alive in Florida over the past few years. Carnivores hunt, kill and eat. Invade their space and be weak, bleeding and slow and see what sympathy you get from their 'normal' nature.

  • Kent says:

    "Besides: If Carnahan wanted to vilify wolves as his film's antagonists, a la sharks in Jaws, that would be a matter of creative license. Do you see the Syfy Channel attacked for propagating irresponsible messages about Mega Snakes and Sharktopi?"

    What a completely inane comment. Hopefully this doesn't even need to be said, but those ARE NOT REAL ANIMALS, the very survival of which could be threatened by a movie that makes them look like bloodthirsty killers, which idiots could start thinking are a case of 'kill or be killed', when people are only just starting to realise that that's not remotely the case when it comes to grey wolves.

    It sure is creative license, but most people would also realise that making a movie like this presents a moral and ethical dilemma where a real animal is portrayed (and grossly misrepresented... and yes I've seen the movie, their behaviour is completely unrealistic, so suspension of disbelief is one thing, what idiots take away from it is another).

    Carnahan sounds like a real d1ck, and I doubt someone who donates $100 a month to Humane Society would also denigrate people with a legitimate related concern by calling them 'wolfaboo wackos'.

  • Steveo says:

    What about the cruel treatment of all those wallets. Left out there in the cold wet snow. Terrible.

  • fhszanderson says:

    Well since we're all do-gooders here let's just ban every single thing cause it in someway or somehow harms something that someone cares about. We'll all just sit around and twiddle out thumbs.. oh wait, that kills germs. That's a fun life right? Get over it. One movie isn't going to cause a whole population to go extinct. So what some wolf meat was consumed. I'm sure it happens pretty regularly and they're still fine. Look at Ranger56's comment. It best explains the true meaning of the movie. I, for one, thought it was great even if it was a bit silly. PETA is just a bunch of radical idiots now. You know they proposed using women's breast milk for ice cream production in order to save cows from that HORRIBLE milking process. You know I agree let's hook up all you PETA women to machines and extract your milk instead. I'm sure you'll change your minds then.

  • [...] a scene where Aaron fights a wolf. “The Grey” and Joe Carnahan got some flack for their portrayals of wolves and so forth in the movie. It’s a difficult scene to watch, [...]

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