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Wildlife filmmaker Chris Palmer shows that animals are often set up to succeed
This subgenre of "fangs and claws" programming courts alpha males. A show called "Shark Bite Beach" is part of the Discovery Channel's annual Shark Week. Animal Planet offers "Untamed and Uncut," a compendium of videos depicting animal rampage.
Palmer points to a clip from the Discovery Channel program "Man vs. Wild." The host, celebrity survivalist Bear Grylls, plunges into a jungle stream, fully clothed, and captures a giant lizard. Palmer suspects the lizard has been placed there by the crew; Discovery officials deny that.
"You'll want to dispatch him," Grylls says. Then he swings the lizard around by the tail and whips its head against a tree.
A grisly scene. Then again, the point of the program is to show how to survive in the wild, partly by killing and cooking one's own food.
Discovery executives say "Man vs. Wild" and its ilk represent an entirely different genre than blue-chip nature filmmaking, and are subject to different standards. Grylls's techniques "have been credited with saving the lives of ordinary people who have found themselves in treacherous situations," said Stephen Reverand, senior vice president of development and production at the Discovery Channel.
Palmer disapproves. In his book, he proposes that every nature film might open with a disclaimer on the screen that says something like, "All the scenes in this film are real and not staged," or, more probably, "Some of the scenes depicted in this film were shot with tame, captive animals."
Not likely, say industry colleagues. Who wants to watch a tame nature film?