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Television Reviews : ‘National Geographic’ Studies Canada’s White Wolves

To be the first people to closely study, photograph and film the white wolves of Canada’s Ellesmere Island, which lies a mere 500 miles south of the North Pole, photographer Jim Brandenburg and wolf biologist David Mech spent two years lying low, staying quiet and freezing their bones. The effort paid off: They were gradually able to find and approach a pack’s hillside-cave den and to gain the wolves’ tolerance of their presence. (There wasn’t a single tree to hide behind.)

Brandenburg and Mech’s fascinating findings and photos were featured in a cover article of the May 1987 National Geographic magazine, and now their filmed account appears as the main 50-minute segment of this week’s two-hour “National Geographic Explorer” (6 p.m. Sunday on TBS cable).

The TV “White Wolf” lies low and quiet itself--even more than most Geo films. We get many facts not only from narrator Richard Kiley but from the two participants’ soto-voce (if slightly stagy) on-the-scene observations and discussions. (It’s never clear exactly how the special was filmed if a third person wasn’t present, but apparently Brandenburg did it himself via a timer and some re-created conversations.)

Through this approach, and by saving until the end the most disturbing--if necessary--aspect of the wolves’ behavior (a musk-oxen hunt), this beautiful and carefully made documentary is as pleasant as it is informative.

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“White Wolf” will also be released on videocassette Feb. 15 by Vestron Video for $29.98.


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