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Into the Wild: Outdoor Movies - In "Harry and the Hendersons," Bigfoot is Alive and Well and Living in Seattle

During a family vacation, it is all too easy to come across a lovable stray animal that the kids want to take home. In Harry and the Hendersons, however, the lovable stray is actually well over 7-feet-tall, strong and extremely hairy.

Talented character actor John Lithgow plays George Henderson, a Seattle family man who takes his family on a camping trip in the Pacific Northwest. On the way back home, George hits what he thinks is an animal, but is shocked to find a large, man-like creature in the road. Assuming that the animal is dead, George straps the body to the car, thinking he can sell the body or have it stuffed.

Later that night, the Hendersons discover that the creature they brought back to Seattle was merely stunned and is now foraging through the refrigerator for something to eat. Not sure if he should contact the authorities, George learns that the creature, now called Harry, actually is quite gentle and much more civilized than he appears Although Harry becomes a part of the family, his resemblance to the legendary Bigfoot creature makes him hard to hide from prying eyes.

A great outdoor movie from the 1980's, Harry and the Hendersons contains a handful of good life lessons along with lots of extremely funny one-liners. Under Academy Award-winning makeup by noted creature creator Rick Baker, the late character actor Kevin Peter Hall gave Harry his mannerisms and gentle personality. Measuring over 7-feet in real life, Hall certainly didn't need any prosthetic help to tower over John Lithgow and the rest of the cast.

Legendary character actor Don Ameche also gets some great moments as Dr. Wallace Wrightwood, a man who had a previous encounter with the Bigfoot creature, but he has doubts about what he saw. Wrightwood's colleague, the temperamental hunter Jacques LaFleur (David Suchet) has no such doubts, though, and wants to bag a Bigfoot for himself.

Funny and heartwarming, Harry and the Hendersons definitely is a real outdoor gem from twenty years ago. Every family should have their own Harry—along with good homeowner's insurance.

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Into the Wild: Outdoor Movies - John Candy and Dan Aykroyd Match Wits in "The Great Outdoors"

Family vacations can be a great way to get away from the problems of daily life, but Chet Ripley (John Candy) can't really escape his issues, even in "The Great Outdoors." Ripley takes his family to the Wisconsin resort where he and his wife spent their honeymoon years ago. Despite promises from the owners that their cabin has been remodeled, Chet and his wife have to clean up all the rotting fish left behind by the previous tenants.

To make matters worse, Chet's obnoxious brother-in-law Roman (Dan Aykroyd) shows up unexpectedly with his family. A real braggart, Roman has to do everything bigger and better than anyone else, springing for lobster tails while Chet can only afford hot dogs. Even when Chet wants to take a peaceful cruise on the lake with his kids, Roman bullies him into renting a powerful jet boat.

Throughout "The Great Outdoors," John Candy and Dan Aykroyd match wits with each other, trying to see who is going to give in first. Although he played several goofy characters during the 1980's, Candy is a real family man here, hoping to give his kids a real outdoors vacation. As the villain, Aykroyd's character would rather tear down the trees and build condominiums, using the rest of the resort as a toxic waste dump.

Known for directing several popular teen movies, John Hughes said that he wrote the script for "The Great Outdoors" based on his memories of his own childhood family vacations. One has to wonder if Hughes' father had to eat the "Ole 96er," the enormous 96-ounce steak that Roman bullies Chet into eating at a local restaurant.

Though "The Great Outdoors" is supposed to be set in Northern Wisconsin, this outdoors comedy was filmed at the Pines Resort in Bass Lake, California. Many film and commercial directors have used Pines Resort as a background because of its natural beauty.

At those times when work keeps you close to home, watch this movie to get a real taste of "The Great Outdoors."


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Into the Wild: Robin Williams and Walter Matthau Are "The Survivors"

In 1983, Walter Matthau and Robin Williams starred in "The Survivors," an outdoor comedy featuring themes that are still relevant today. Williams plays Donald Quinelle, a New York City executive who loses his job thanks to a sluggish economy. While wallowing in self-pity at a local diner, Donald stops a robbery, but the would-be thief (Jerry Reed) shoots him during their scuffle.

The whole experience gives Donald a new perspective on life, and he becomes more outspoken about justice and his right to defend himself. Developing a passion for guns, he eventually leaves New York City behind to join a survivalist group in Vermont. Sonny Paluso (Matthau), who helped Donald stop the thief, wonders about his new friend's sanity, but he ends up following him into the mountains when the robber returns.

Filmed on location in Fairlee, Vermont, "The Survivors" is a fairly tongue-in-cheek comedy with some serious undertones. Shot during the recession in the early 1980's, Robin Williams' character has to deal with the issues of sudden unemployment, as does his new friend Sonny Paluso. While Sonny tries out new jobs, Donald arms himself for the inevitable downfall of humanity.

Approximately half of "The Survivors" takes place in cold and snowy Vermont locations. Walter Matthau wears a hunting cap that's virtually identical to the one he wore ten years later in "Grumpy Old Men" while Robin Williams sheds his business suit, dressing himself in battle fatigues, combat boots and a beret. Near the end of the film, Williams says, however, that he looks more like a "Guardian Eskimo" than a survivalist.

The Donald Quinelle character also talks about the downfall of civilization, but this was long before concerns about the Millennium Bug were even on the radar. Like Donald, many people thought the Y2K problem would cause humanity to become savages, and he invested all his available cash in a Survivalist condo in Vermont and powdered eggs.

An almost forgotten comedy from the 1980's, "The Survivors" is pretty funny, but, in light of recent events, the serious themes also will make you stop and think.


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Into the Wild: A College Student Goes Off the Grid to Live by His Wits in the Wilderness

Many people long for a more simple life, but few have the courage or conviction to do it as Christopher McCandless did nearly 20 years ago. A graduate of Emory University in Atlanta, McCandless gave his entire life savings to charity and went "off the grid" in 1990, traveling the country for two years before reaching his final destination in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Based on the book of the same name by Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild presents a gritty, unapologetic look at McCandless' attempts to live off the land with only his brains and determination. Actor Emile Hirsch portrays McCandless as a bright, industrious young man who burned all his cash because having money wasn't quite as exciting as being penniless.

Director Sean Penn recreates McCandless' journey, starting on the Pacific Crest Trail and ending up on the Stampede Trail in Alaska. Although joined by top-notch performers such as Vince Vaughn, William Hurt and Catherine Keener, Hirsch spends most of his time alone on screen, showing McCandless' struggles in painful and glorious detail.

Into the Wild shows McCandless starting out in his beloved used car, but a flash flood in the Lake Meade area forced him to abandon the vehicle. For the next two years, he hitchhiked down highways, climbed mountains and even used money he earned in South Dakota to buy a kayak. In one of the more ironic scenes, McCandless has a heated discussion with a park ranger about the need to buy a permit to paddle down a river.

Although director Sean Penn puts a Hollywood spin on McCandless' story, Into the Wild is truly fascinating to watch. Emile Hirsch turns in a stunning performance as McCandless, relying more on facial expressions and body language than words to convey what the college graduate was going through.

William Hurt, Marcia Gay Harden and Jena Malone also are top-notch as McCandless' family who desperately are trying to find him. Into the Wild is a moving, sometimes heartbreaking story of a young man who went off to find himself and one of the best outdoor films produced in recent years.


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Into the Wild: Brian Keith and Charlton Heston Are Two Hard-Drinking "Mountain Men"

In 1980, Brian Keith starred opposite Charlton Heston in "The Mountain Men," an outdoor adventure full of profanity, extreme violence and some nudity. Keith, best known for playing Uncle Bill on the sitcom "Family Affair," plays Henry Frapp, an outdoorsman whose love for whiskey and women would have made Buffy, Cissy and Mr. French blush with shame.

For 20 years, Frapp has been working in the mountains with Bill Tyler (*Heston*), a beaver trapper who hopes to make a good profit at the next "Rendezvous," an annual mountain event. Trappers, hunters and traders would head to the Rendezvous for some good eating, drinking and, of course, the occasional fight or two.

At the latest Rendezvous, however, Bill learns that beaver pelts don't command as much money as they did in previous years. Thanks to changes in fashion, men now prefer hats made out of fine silk instead of fur. If that wasn't stressful enough, Bill also finds himself stuck with Running Moon (*Victoria Racimo*), a stubborn Indian maiden that he rescued before heading to Rendezvous.

Filmed on location in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in Wyoming, "The Mountain Men" is a very raw, sometimes hilarious film about the men who used to make their living as fur traders. Brian Keith and Charlton Heston have way too much fun as Bill and Henry, especially when they get to cut loose with a jug of whiskey.

The funniest parts of "The Mountain Men" occur during the fights with some of the local Indian tribes. At times, it is nearly impossible to tell which actors are playing the Blackfoot warriors and which men are portraying members of the Crow tribe. No matter how many warriors show up though, Bill and Henry are able to handle them easily with a couple of muskets and a handgun.

For those who love the outdoors though, the beautiful mountain scenery makes renting "The Mountain Men" worthwhile. Brian Keith and Charlton Heston had star power in 1980, but the Wyoming scenery is what you will remember long after seeing this film.


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Into the Wild: Hunters Earned a Bad Reputation from Walt Disney's Animated Classic "Bambi"

For hunters who like to head out into the woods during deer season, the animated classic "Bambi" is bound to cause mixed feelings. Originally released in 1942 by the Walt Disney Studios, this film gives deer as well as rabbits, skunks and quail personalities and other human traits. The film is bright, cheery and colorful, turning dark only when "Man" arrives in the forest.

As the film opens, the newly born Bambi is resting comfortably by his mother's side. As the son of the Great Prince of the Forest, all the other animals come out to meet him, respectfully calling Bambi the "Young Prince." He even becomes good friends with Thumper, an outspoken young rabbit, and Flower, a skunk who doesn't mind his unusual nickname.

While trying to protect her son, hunters shoot Bambi's mother, but his father arrives to teach him everything he needs to know. The animals view Man as a constant threat, and the Young Prince makes himself ready to protect his woodland friends.

Based on the novel by author Felix Salten, "Bambi" continues to stir debate amongst hunters and animal rights activists. Walt Disney and his animators portray the hunters as creatures hiding in the brush who bring death with the crack of a rifle shot. In one key scene, their carelessness even destroys a good portion of Bambi's woodland home.

It has been shown, though, that without hunters and other controls, the deer population in some areas can grow to dangerous proportions. In the Disney film, Bambi is a white-tail deer, which is rather plentiful in the state of Massachusetts. A report released by Westfield State College examined the problems caused by a deer population explosion, in particular damage to food crops and highway accidents.

The Westfield State College study also said that the two most effective ways of keeping the deer population in check were birth control and hunting. In light of this information, Walt Disney's portrayal of hunters as anonymous killers doesn't really seem justified.


Westfield State College: "Bambi vs. Hunters: Controlling the Deer Population in Massachusetts"

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Into the Wild - Outdoor Movies: Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin Live on The Edge in an Alaskan Mountain Range

While traveling with companions through dangerous woods or on an icy mountain range, the best piece of equipment that you can have with you is trust. Ropes, ice axes and crampons are fine, but in a life-or-death situation, it's the man or woman by your side that can determine whether or not you live or die.

That's the underlying theme of The Edge, an often overlooked outdoor thriller starring Anthony Hopkins and Alec Baldwin. Hopkins plays Charles Morse, a kindly billionaire who likes the outdoor life, but his only real experience with camping has been through a series of books and nature guides. Baldwin is Robert Green, a fashion photographer who travels to Alaska to shoot a fashion layout of Charles' wife.

On a quick trip to find another model for the shoot, the plane carrying Charles, Robert and his assistant Stephen (Harold Perrineau) crashes into the wilderness. Stranded and freezing, the three men have to rely on each other and their survival skills to make it back to civilization. Unfortunately, unresolved tension between Charles and Robert may mean that someone will die before they get home.

Filmed in the Rocky Mountains, The Edge is as sharp as the knife that Anthony Hopkins carries with him for the bulk of the film. Early on in the film, screenwriter David Mamet makes reference to a Cree legend about a panther hunting a rabbit, who calmly smokes a pipe in the face of imminent danger. While watching the movie, though, it isn't clear at times which man is the panther and which actor plays the rabbit.

Anthony Hopkins turns in yet another brilliant performance as a billionaire who isn't as helpless as he first appears. Though a very refined man, Morse is a pretty useful guy to have around in the wilderness. Alec Baldwin matches Hopkins on every level, and the tension between the two actors builds onscreen until it is ready to explode.

An outdoor thriller that contains real-life survival techniques, The Edge is two hours of white-knuckle action.


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Into the Wild - Outdoor Movies: Two Orphans Team Up in the Unforgiving Canadian Wilderness in "White Fang"

For over a century, the name Jack London has been synonymous with outdoor adventure, especially in novels like "White Fang." In 1991, Randal Kleiser stepped behind the camera to direct a big screen adaptation of London's classic story of the friendship that develops between two young orphans.

In the film, Ethan Hawke plays Jack Conroy, a young scholar who heads to the Yukon in Alaska during the infamous Gold Rush. Surrounded by opportunists who are there to find gold or steal it, Jack simply wants to claim his late father's stake and take home the gold that rightfully belongs to him. Unfortunately, Jack is pretty much a tenderfoot when it comes to outdoor survival.

Hooking up with a couple of veteran outdoorsmen, the young scholar learns first-hand how dangerous the beautiful frozen landscape truly can be, especially when using snowshoes. While Jack and his friends are hunting for gold, the wolves in the Yukon Territory are tracking them in order to make a meal of their sled dogs.

As Jack learns to survive, a young pup who is half-dog and half-wolf also is trying to make his way in the world. After losing his mother, the pup, who earns the nickname White Fang, is used first for labor and then in dog fights. When White Fang meets Jack, however, he finally finds a kindred spirit.

Filmed in Haines and Skagway, Alaska, "White Fang" is a beautifully constructed adventure film set against a frigid landscape. Director Randal Kleiser puts a bit of a Hollywood spin on London's story of friendship and courage, but the heart of the original novel is still evident in the film.

A promising young actor in 1991, Ethan Hawke brings the right amount of enthusiasm to the role of Jack Conroy, a scholar who would have died in the Yukon without the help of his human friends and White Fang. A few years later, Hawke's wilderness experience helped him in "Alive," an outdoor adventure which was based on a real-life plane crash in the Andes.