Bear Island (1979) starring Donald Sutherland, Vanessa Redgrave, Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee, Barbara Parkins, Lloyd Bridges directed by Don Sharp Movie Review

Bear Island (1979)   3/53/53/53/53/5

August Schellenberg and Donald Sutherland in Bear Island (1979)

Grin and Bear It

Under certain restrictions a United Nations expedition are given permission from NATO to go on Bear Island, a former Nazi base, in order to research climate warning. Joining that expedition is Frank Lansing (Donald Sutherland - Animal House) who seems to be involved in one accident after another as an avalanche almost kills him then a snow vehicle explodes. And having discovered a secret German U-Boat station he is sure that what he discovers is connected to the murder attempts, the question is who amongst the multi-national team is behind it all.

Alistair MacLean is a name which anyone who loves movies will be aware of, he wrote some of the best action adventures ever made which have stood the test of time such as "Where Eagles Dare". Unfortunately "Bear Island" is not one of them and whilst this aims to be more of a thriller than an action movie it struggles to generate anywhere close to the atmosphere it needs to succeed. In fairness I don't think you can blame MacLean as he only wrote the book on which it is based so the blame lays elsewhere in the direction and the screenplay as not only is the end result disjointed and punctuated by needless action but as I said it lacks atmosphere.

Christopher Lee and Vanessa Redgrave in Bear Island (1979)

The set up itself isn't bad as we are taken to this frozen Artic Island with a WWII history and this multi-national team all of who are suspicious from the get go. We also have an early moment of drama as we see a man on the island trying to radio for help only to be ploughed down by a snow vehicle. It is in fact a good build up especially when we learn about Lansing and his ulterior motive for being part of the expedition which leads to one of the movies best scenes as he explores an underground cavern with German U-boats with the skeletons of the crew aboard.

But whilst we get this decent set up and quickly become aware of some nefarious activity as Lansing is almost killed when someone starts an avalanche what follows is dull. The first problem is that despite giving us various characters all of which could be suspects it is far too obvious as to who is behind it all when you just take a minute to think about a connection between the Nazi base and the cliche view of how a Nazi would act. But then there is the fact that rather than try and build on the basic atmosphere of suspense director Don Sharp peppers the movie with action as every 5 to 10 minutes we get another moment of drama and many of them end up needless, just included to try and turn this thriller into an action thriller.

In the end "Bear Island" has two saving graces, the frozen location makes for a dramatic backdrop with the built sets such as the Nazi U-boat cavern looking impressive and then there is the calibre of the cast. Donald Sutherland, Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee and Vanessa Redgrave are just some of the recognizable names and faces who appear in the movie. Unfortunately whilst having a star cast helps there characters are not that good and certainly don't stretch any of the actors in the slightest.

What this all boils down to is that "Bear Island" is not a terrible movie but one which disappoints because not only does it fail to create the right atmosphere but it tries to substitute the lack of atmosphere with frequent action with much of it ending up feeling unnecessary.