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!”?