Top positive review
64 people found this helpful
Thoughtful, beautiful, educational. Inspiring!
on 19 November 2009
This is a series for people who've followed Ray Mears' previous efforts and are already in tune with the basics of bushcraft and exploration. If you're hoping for blow-by-blow accounts of how to light a fire using nothing but moss and friction, or which berries can be eaten or which plants cure dysentery, then you need to go back to his earlier programmes where he covers the basics of outdoor survival, of living in nature and with nature.
Northern Wilderness pretty much assumes that you're already up to speed with that kind of background, and instead takes a broader look at the stunningly beautiful Canadian countryside, its heritage and the people who discovered it and shaped its development.
So you get far more than just a travelogue or survival guide in these hour-long programmes. Instead Ray Mears demonstrates how individual explorers discovered the wild lands of Canada; how the fur trade and later commercial development led to the birth of a nation. Mears explains the background of the history of the country itself and how the Europeans and native peoples worked alongside each other - often, sadly, to the detriment of the First Nation and the wild animals.
Mears uses a variety of forms of transport to re-trace important journeys into the wilderness, going by canoe to tell the story of the Hudson's Bay Company whose early traders laid the foundations of the modern Canadian state. Another episode follows the route of explorer Samuel Hearne who learned native skills in order to complete his epic 1000 mile journey beyond the tree line and into the tundra. Another of the six programmes looks at the Arctic explorer John Rae who found the Northwest Passage, and Mears examines his (dodgy) reputation and attempts to set the record straight.
All of this information is set against an awe-inspiring backdrop of enormous skies, snow-strew ice sheets, tumbling, churning rivers and the ancient, massive forest which still dominates the Canadian landscape. The camera adores the landscape, panning and swooping to capture its fragile beauty at dawn or dusk. Every now or then a wild animal wanders through - like a polar bear - demonstrating that the crew really are out in the wilderness. And you don't get the feeling that these animals have been staged for our benefit, unlike on some other survival programmes...
Mears talks to the locals, gets them to explain their family and tribal heritage and how it's been affected by the development of the country. He builds fires and cooks food in the traditional manner of the area, often sharing little bits of bushcraft or wood-working skill as an aside. Most of these programmes feel very natural, obviously carefully planned and produced, but not forced. Only an occasional shot rings false - like when Mears `goes ahead' to chop down branches from a crew carrying a canoe overland. That's more than compensated for by the scenes of woodland woodworking, of net-making in the traditional manner, of cooking local fish in a fire pit -- all first nations techniques which have come close to being lost.
Watching this series taught me a huge amount about the history of Canadian exploration, and the people who opened up its wilderness to the rest of the world. It's hugely enjoyable and a visual treat - if it's available in HD then that'd definitely be worth seeing.
But if you want to see the presenter in a role more like action man; eating bugs, wrestling snakes, surviving on no water for days on end, etc, then this is the wrong series to watch! Northern Wilderness is altogether more thoughtful; fewer thrills but rather more intellectual challenge...