Wednesday, 25 September 2019

Movie Review: Bear Island (1979)


A basic thriller, Bear Island offers a good cast and plenty of stunts, but the rather senseless plot is beyond salvation.

American academic Frank Lansing (Donald Sutherland) joins a group of international scientists researching climate change on the remote and icy Bear Island, located between Norway and the Arctic Circle in the Barents Sea. The expedition leader is German Otto Geran (Richard Widmark), and the other scientists include Norway's Heddi Lindquist (Vanessa Redgrave), Poland's Lechinski (Christopher Lee), American Smithy (Lloyd Bridges) and Canada's Judith Rubin (Barbara Parkins).

Bear Island was a Nazi naval base bombed heavily towards the end of the World War Two, and Lansing reveals he is the son of a German U-Boat commander. Geran designates parts of the island off-limits to the other scientists. Suspicious mishaps including avalanches and explosions start to beset the expedition and it becomes quickly apparent that an evil plot is unfolding and the scientists are in grave danger.

A Canadian production directed by Don Sharp, Bear Island is a perfunctory adaptation of the Alistair MacLean's novel. The cast is talented, the stunt performers do their job well and Sharp effectively conveys the unforgiving environment of ice, snow, wind and bitter cold. But the sloppy and barely defined treasure hunt story is straight from the bottom drawer of adventure ideas and unlikely to resonate with anyone past the age of ten.

Bear Island jettisons all its intriguing climate change research subplot within the first 15 minutes. After brief introductions the scientists are reduced to unwilling participants in a frozen version of And Then There Were None, one scientist killed or seriously hurt every ten minutes or so. Once revealed, the villains are a disappointing clutch of featureless characters, while the assorted red herrings are just as bland.

The action scenes are plentiful and feature a killer avalanche, a mammoth explosion, a completely unnecessary dunk in icy waters and a high speed chase across snowy terrain using innovative motorized vehicles. Due to the lack of engaging content elsewhere, Sharp prolongs these scenes well past what is necessary, and as a result the stunt performers appear to get more screen time than the cast members.

Bear Island is cluttered with hidden history and secret agendas, all of them best kept frozen.






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