When scrap metal merchant Troy Hurtubise was out walking alone in a Canadian forest back in the eighties, he had an unfortunate experience: a grizzly bear emerged from the trees and started towards him. The beast knocked Troy off his feet, but didn't kill him, and this incident has marked the man for life, the fact of his survival making a great impression on him. For this reason, Troy has been in the process of creating a bear-proof suit for some years and with varying degrees of success; here in the mid-nineties he had reached the Ursus Mark VI, a red and white costume that he had been subjecting to rigorous testing procedures. Now all he needed was a bear to try it out with, but that was easier said than done...
We've all had experiences which have played on our mind, leaving us thinking, "if only I'd reacted differently" or "I should have handled that better." For most of us, these experiences will simply remain bad memories, but for some the need to relive the incident and come out on top goes a little too far. Troy Hurtubise is one of those people, and when Project Grizzly was released, it caught the imagination of all those who saw it, becoming a minor cult sensation in the process, even being referenced on The Simpsons. Basically the film follows Hurtubise around as he tests his pride and joy, convincing himself that this will be one hudred percent effective against any bear attack. The reality, it transpires, is somewhat different.
Afficionados of programmes like Jackass will find much amusement in the testing procedures Troy puts himself and his suit through. First we see him taking a blow to the chest with a large, swinging log, knocking him right off his feet, then an archer shoots arrows into him, and finally he is shot at with a rifle (sensibly he declines to be in the suit for that operation, substituting a purple balloon instead). And all the while he talks incessantly as we begin to get the measure of the man from his background as told by Troy. We hear of his childhood exploits, one of which nearly burned the house down, and of his father, who built a whole replica Indian village out of trees, but doesn't join Troy on his adventures because he wants to be in charge.
To get used to being around bears, Troy goes along to the local rubbish dump to see the scavenging black bears, but it's not enough for him. Comparing himself to Robocop, his suit makes him indestructible against heavy objects and fire, but he still doesn't know how it would stand up against a grizzly. There is home video footage of the suit's previous incarnations, making Troy look like an action figure as he is flung down embankments and rammed by trucks, all with few ill effects. But the latest one has a problem: lack of mobility, in fact Troy resembles a wind up robot toy as he shuffles along - all he needs are a few flashing lights. When he hears of a bear attack in Alberta on his truck radio, he knows he must get there as soon as possible: this is his big chance.
The dream of invincibility threatens to come true for Troy, and its hard not to want him to succeed, but his obsession seems almost childish in its execution. His expedition consists of his crew and some mountain men, one of whom tells a story of being in Vietnam and playing with hand grenades; it seems the macho search for the perfect adrenaline rush is pretty prevalent. But disaster strikes when Troy finds he can't move more than a couple of paces over the rough terrain in the Ursus Mark VI without falling over, meaning the whole project turns out to be a farcical waste of time. The film suffers from this anticlimax, and director Peter Lynch resorts to having Troy retell his encounter with the "Old Man" as he calls it, but I suppose this could be regarded as just as amusing as the test procedures. They do finally see a bear, but can do nothing but watch it from afar. The indomitable Troy promises to be back with an Ursus Mark VII. Music by Anne Bourne and Ken Myhr.