"Living With Wolves" is not only an enjoyable documentary feature, but a good summary of man's current situation with wild animals. As more and more development takes place, animals continue to be forced out of their homes and into contact with man. Deer and coyotes are becoming a more common backyard visitor than ever before. In one instance that occured a couple of weeks prior to writing this review, a coyote wandered into a Quizno's in the middle of downtown Chicago and, after looking around a bit, settled into a cooler in the store.
In an attempt to give viewers a greater understanding of creatures often characterized as simply fierce predators, filmmakers Jim and Jamie Dutcher followed one particular wolf pack, living in a tent nearby for six years and gradually gaining the trust of the creatures. Early on, we see Jim Dutcher's fascinating attempts to try and "assemble" a wolf pack, as wolf pups that he raised are introduced to a potential pair of foster parents, who have an unusually mixed reaction to their new family members. It takes Dutcher months of gaining friendship in order to get close enough to see the problem with the hesitant, shy mother: her eyes have nearly clouded over. He writes to the only one he knew who would have expertise in the matter: Jamie, who he'd met on a plane. After Jim is able to get the creature into surgery with a local surgeon instead, the wolf gets her eyesight back, but - interestingly - never quite trusts Jim the same way again.
Later, after one of the pack members is killed by a cougar (Jim also has filmed cougars in the past, and figures that the wolves tried to get at the cougar by finding scratches and fur in a nearby tree), Jim watches as the pack mournfully howls, looking for their lost family member. However, soon after sad loss comes life, as new pups are born. For Jim, it is another chance to see the wolves take their place in the pack, and one of them will rise to dominance as an alpha male (which, as the Dutchers notice, is not always the biggest of the pack.) Shortly after, Jim convinces Jamie to join him in the chilly mountains of Idaho and leave behind a comfy home in Maryland. After a surprisingly warm welcome, the wolves accept Jamie as another human observer.
The documentary is a fascinating, detailed view of the inner workings of the wolf pack, showing viewers the pack's complex behaviors, family structure and more. It's also remarkable the kind of trust that the Dutchers are able to get from the wolves, who they let come to them when they want to - they do not come towards the wolves first.
Sadly, the time comes for the Dutchers to say goodbye. At the end of the film, a decision is made to move to wolves to a new, permanent home on tribal land. As the wolves are let out of cages and into their new home, we see the devotion of the pack, as one returns to a cage that holds its brother, and gently gives the other wolf some encouragement that it is okay to venture out and explore. This is an exceptional - both in terms of interesting information and beautiful cinematography - and occasionally quite emotional (the end is heartbreaking) nature documentary. Coming back to see the wolves a year later, the wolves treat them not like strangers, but like old friends.
"Wolves at Our Door" is an hour-long additional feature that expands in ways upon the "Living With Wolves" documentary. Here, we learn more about the project that Jim is a part of that would allow close study of wolves living in a specific, permitted area. We also see more about the care of the wolf pups in the other film that were raised by the humans at their camp in order to join the pack. Essentially, this functions as a good mixture of further information about wolves and some "behind-the-scenes" footage from the other film. There are some repetitive moments between the two films, but there are also a lot of moments of new footage or extended looks at subjects. Overall, these are both excellent films and compliment each other pretty well.
VIDEO: Both features are given crisp, clear 1.33:1 full-frame presentations by Image Entertainment. Aside from some slight shimmering, the transfers are crystal clear. Given the mostly cold environment, colors are not particularly vibrant, but bolder colors occasionally show and look vivid when they do.
SOUND: The stereo soundtracks for both features delivered clear dialogue and howls.
Final Thoughts: Beautifully filmed, moving and informative, "Living with Wolves" is a terrific, memorable nature documentary. "Wolves At Our Door" is somewhat repetitive, but works as a nice compliment to the longer "Living With". The DVD offers no extras, but fine audio/video quality. Recommended.