The Outside Blog

Adventure : Media

Real-Life Dog Tales

What's better than a good dog movie? But we're not talking about Chihuahuas that talk or pasta-slurping Cocker Spaniels. Like our favorite print stories, the best dog films are the ones based on real-life adventures. So grab your pooch and some popcorn; here are six of our favorites:

Hachiko: A Dog's Story

{%{"video":"//www.youtube.com/embed/Y6U7mAnPtw4?rel=0"}%}

The original tale took place in 1924 in Japan. A rescued Akita named Hachiko waited at the train station everyday for his owner—a professor at the University of Tokyo—to return. One day, the owner doesn't get off the train; he suffered a stroke earlier that day. The story goes that every day for almost ten years, Hachiko waited at the train station for his owner. The loyal Hachiko became somewhat of a celebrity in Japan—there is a statue of him at the Shibuya train station—and he even had his organs preserved when he died in the 1930s.

The 2009 film is set in America instead of Japan, and stars Richard Gere as the professor.

Balto

{%{"video":"//www.youtube.com/embed/a6lGULmQdb0"}%}

Balto's real-life journey began when a case of diphtheria broke out among the children of Nome, Alaska in January of 1925. Roads were down and the town's single airplane had been put away for the winter. The solution? Sled dogs, naturally. A group of 20 mushers started on the 600-mile trip to Anchorage to get the medicine back to Nome, with Balto bravely leading the way.

As a result, this husky might be the most famous dog yet—he's voiced by Kevin Bacon in the 1995 animated movie Balto: The True Story of An American Hero, his statue is a favorite of visitors to New York City's Central Park, his body is mounted at the Cleveland's Natural History Museum, and his famous trek inspired the legendary Iditarod sled race.

Air Bud

{%{"video":"//www.youtube.com/embed/OuyiEnIZpuA"}%}

If you don't like the original basketball-playing Air Bud, don't worry—you have about 12 more movies to choose from, including (but not limited to): Air Bud: Strikes Back, where the pooch plays volleyball; Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch, where he plays baseball; and a plethora of Air Buddies films, where, you know, Air Bud has puppies? We're not sure, we didn't watch all six of them.

The true story, though, behind Buddy is much more interesting—and realistic. Buddy was a found in the Sierra Nevada by writer and producer Kevin di Cicco, who later wrote a book, Go Buddy!, about the dog. "I rescued him from abandonment in the mountains, but Buddy also rescued me, giving my life purpose, direction, and a profound sense of relationship I had been missing," he writes. "Our bond saved us both and together we forged a path from that dirt trail near the old mine shaft to international sensation on the silver screen, his eventual fall to cancer but not before siring a litter of puppies that would carry on his iconic legacy for generations to come."

Finding Rin Tin Tin

{%{"video":"//www.youtube.com/embed/Dm3doQ0OdjM"}%}

Arguably the most famous German Shepherd to hit the big screen, Rinty, as he was nicknamed, starred in five seasons of the ABC television series The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, and countless movies.

The 2007 film, Finding Rin Tin Tin, is the story of Rinty's rescue from a French battlefield during World War I by American soldier Lee Duncan. The dog was taken back to California by his new owner and quickly became an onscreen favorite, starring in 27 Hollywood films.

According to Susan Orlean, author of Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, Rin Tin Tin received the most votes for Best Actor at the first Academy Awards in 1929, but the Academy decided a human actor should win the award.

My Dog Skip

{%{"video":"//www.youtube.com/embed/VF3cx_Oj9-I"}%}

My Dog Skip is your typical coming-of-age story, but this time with a furry friend along for the journey. The film includes a line-up of well-known actors, including Frankie Muniz, Luke Wilson, Kevin Bacon, and Diane Lane. The story follows a young boy who can't seem to make any friends in his new Mississippi town. To solve the problem, his parents get him a terrier puppy who helps him grow up.

The 2000 film is based on the autobiographical novel of the same title by Willie Morris.

Marley & Me

{%{"video":"//www.youtube.com/embed/lShipoEMI6Q"}%}

Warning: If you've ever had yellow labs, this is a hard movie to watch. Based on the autobiographical novelMarley & Me: Life and Love with the World's Worst Dog by John Grogan, the 2008 feature film stars Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston. The story follows the husband and wife as they get a puppy that never seems to outgrow his energy and mischievousness. If your pooch has ever been kicked out of training class or has a penchant for ignoring you when something more interesting is in nose-range, Marley & Me will resonate deeply. By the time the credits roll, you'll be sobbing into your dog's fur. 

Eight Below

{%{"video":"//www.youtube.com/embed/zz7TGf1awDo"}%}

Based on the true story of a Japanese Antarctic expedition in 1958, the 2006 film Eight Below tells the sad story of dogs getting left behind in dangerously cold conditions. A dogsled team is chained outside a research station, while the humans leave in a hurry as winter sets in. The main guide, played by the late Paul Walker, constantly worries about the dogs back at home. Days and months pass, and we are left wondering how many pups survive.

Read More

The Brief, Wondrous Life of Zina Lahr

The mayor was the last person to see Zina Nicole Lahr alive. Sometime in the early afternoon of Wednesday, November 20, Bob Risch, a 73-year-old native of Ouray, Colorado, and its mayor from 2007 until this January, noticed the colorful and well-known local strolling east. She was dressed in pants and a light jacket and was wearing Vibram Five Fingers toe shoes instead of winter boots.

“He saw her going down the alley just to the east of our property,” recalls Risch’s wife, Karen. “It was starting to snow, and it was cold. He didn’t even tell me, because, of course, we didn’t know anything was wrong until her mother called about 6:30 and said that Zina hadn’t come home.”

Bob and Karen, neighbors of the Lahrs,  had watched Zina grow up. When she was ten, Zina had helped Karen train her search dog, Lyra, a shepherd-Labrador mix, to find people in the mountains. Karen would dig a snow cave, and  Zina would climb in with a beacon and radio. “She said once that she loved having Lyra’s paws come through the snow when the dog found her,” Karen says.

Zina had been heading toward Cascade Falls, a popular hiking destination on the Perimeter Trail, a four-year-old footpath that rings the town. Ouray, population 1,000, is in southwestern Colorado, where it sits at the head of a box canyon on the Uncompahgre River, right where U.S. 550—the most dangerously avalanche-prone stretch of highway in the U.S.—descends from Red Mountain Pass. A Main Street billboard for a summer jeep-touring company calls Ouray The Little Switzerland of America. Above town, the peaks and ridgelines of the San Juan Mountains rise so abruptly that their summits are hidden from view by shoulders of ore-rich rock that still keeps many local miners employed.

“Before we had ice climbing, if you came into Ouray in the middle of the winter, it was an incredibly dead place,” says Bob Risch. “At 8 p.m. on Main Street, you were more likely to see deer than people.”

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/sea-creature-creation-zinah_si.jpg","align":"left"}%}

After the Ouray Ice Park formally opened in 2001, the town cemented its position as the sport’s American mecca. Since then, more motels and restaurants have sprouted up, along with new trails that traverse the steep hillsides where Zina hiked most days. On November 20, she snapped some photos with her phone and picked a small bit of moss for her grandmother Patricia that was later found in her pants pocket.

“Zina would go out on an adventure every day, and she would get some little piece of nature—a stone, a fossil, beautiful fall leaves,” says her mother, Cindy Lahr. Cindy commuted to work as the office manager at a dental practice in Montrose, 40 miles north. “They would discuss this little memorabilia that Zina would bring back from her adventure,” says Cindy. “And they would weave it into a story that they were going to write together.”

At some point on the 20th, Zina climbed above the Perimeter Trail, possibly to get a better view of town and its surrounding peaks. Then she slipped. Or rockfall hit her from above, crushing her skull. Nobody is quite sure what happened, but the police ruled out foul play. “From what I understand of the coroner’s report, she was not aware of her impending death, so she didn’t have any adrenaline in her system,” says Sean DeLand, 33, a Telluride-based television producer and musician whom Zina had seen on and off since 2012. Friends and family take solace in the likelihood that she didn’t bleed or suffer much.

After she died, a five-minute video surfaced of Zina standing in her bedroom in her grandmother’s house, which had shelves crammed with robots she’d built and other art projects. In the video, she explains that she has “creative compulsive disorder” and can’t stop making things—especially robots. The video was the first hint at what Zina was: an impossibly innocent and gifted eccentric on the verge of breaking out in the world of animatronics and stop motion. It was an audition for a Los Angeles–based reality show called Jim Henson’s Creature Shop Challenge, a SyFy channel program premiering March 25 that’s sort of like Project Runway for animatronics artists. She’d turned down a spot on the show in order to move home and care for her grandmother, who’d been diagnosed with lung cancer in September.

The clip, called “The Work of Zina Nicole Lahr,” went viral and has since been viewed half a million times on Vimeo. There was something about this girl in steampunk chic—with peacock-feather hair falls and aviator goggles always perched on her forehead—that struck people as incredibly genuine. In the video, Zina, looking like a Jules Verne–era tinkerer with some Mad Max thrown in, says she considers herself a canvas as much as anything else.

{%{"video":"245216031"}%}

A Reddit group generated hundreds of comments, most of them from people who wanted to understand how someone like Zina could even be real. “Where the hell does a person like this come from?” wrote one. “I think most people, myself included, eventually become jaded and lose that sense of wonder we once had when we were children. Based on the little bit I’ve seen and read, though, it seems she managed to keep that, which is incredible to me. I feel like there is an incredible lesson to be learned from the way she appears to have lived her life, but I can’t grasp at what it is.”

A few less charitable viewers wondered whether drugs or alcohol might have been a factor in Zina’s death, since she appeared underweight and looked as if she’d just come back from Burning Man.

“Oh, no. Zina’s never been there,” says Stormy Pyeatte, one of her childhood friends and the filmmaker who shot the video. “This girl’s never had a drop of alcohol in her life. She’s never driven a car—but she could take a car engine apart.”

If Zina had a secret, it was virtue rather than vice: Like many of the people who surrounded her, she was a lifelong evangelical Christian, deeply spiritual and devoted to Jesus, though she was not very dogmatic or political. “One of my buddies who I play music with didn’t realize until after her funeral that religion or Christianity or faith was so important to Zina,” says Sean, who had first gotten to know Zina on Facebook because they share similar beliefs.

Before her death, Zina had begun to travel away from home for the first time, and it seemed as if life was just beginning for her. “I realize that this body has found its way back to Colorado,” she wrote in a philosophical ramble on her blog, Normally Odd in August 2013. “This is my third venture back to this base since I started my travels to California a little over a year ago for what started as a simple adventure of delivering wedding rings, and turned into an odyssey without a definitive end.”

The Lahrs moved to Ouray from College Station, Texas, in 1987. Zina was born in 1990. Her father left the family when she was seven, and she was raised and homeschooled by her mother and her mother’s parents. Zina’s grandfather, Keith, was an agricultural research scientist at Texas A&M. “My dad’s specialty was wheat,” says Cindy. “He developed some wheat strains with resistance to drought and disease.”

When Zina was eight, Cindy began routinely driving her to the John McConnell Math and Science Center of Western Colorado, in Grand Junction, 100 miles north, for an extracurricular program. McConnell, a former Los Alamos National Laboratories physicist, had started the center as a second career after retiring. He taught Zina how to read electrical schematics and to solder and connect capacitors and resistors to make machines. Then Zina figured out how to make mechanical arms, legs, and wings that moved naturally. She finished high school at 16 with a graduation ceremony on her grandmother’s front steps. “I’ve had lots of girls in programs who did very well, but she was just one of those unique ones who really took a love of this,” says McConnell. He and his wife came to Zina’s graduation, which was performed by her minister.

About a year after her graduation, Zina adopted her steampunk look. Her mom thinks she was inspired by Amelia Earhart or a photo of her paternal grandfather, who was a pilot.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/zinah-room-studio_si.jpg","align":"right"}%}

“She could take any bits of scrap and turn them into a sculpture or robot,” says Jim Frank, a radio engineer in Montrose who in 2011 hired Zina as an intern to help him service ridgetop repeater stations. “She had that mechanical intuition that all good engineers have.”

In the summer of 2012, Zina, then 22, traveling with a friend, 18-year-old Lizzy Ficco, left home for the first time. Lizzy had just graduated from high school. They were going to San Diego to deliver a pair of gold wedding rings that Zina had made while working for a jeweler in nearby Ridgeway.

“We got on the California Zephyr—got one-way tickets,” says Lizzy. “We got on the train in Denver. My mom had driven us to the station at four in the morning.”

They spent two and a half days on the rails. “We ate our weight in train food,” Lizzy recalls. “We were all dirty and we smelled horrible, and it was awesome.”

Zina and Lizzy disembarked in Barstow, California, and took a bus to San Diego, arriving at 5 a.m. on the day of the wedding. After delivering the rings, they decided to spend more time in Southern California, staying first with friends and then with an uncle of Zina’s who lived in L.A.

“Anywhere Zina and I would go, people would open up their homes to us,” says Lizzy. “They’d be like, ‘Yeah, you can stay for a couple days,’ and we'd end up staying for, like, two weeks.”

On July 12, they went to San Diego to attend Comic-Con International, a convention for people who are into comics and fantasy. Zina was a fan of a webcomic called Girl Genius and got an ink drawing autographed for Jim Frank, the radio engineer in Montrose. “That was like her mecca,” says Lizzy of Comic-Con. “That was her stomping ground.”

On the last day of the show, Zina and Lizzy met Josh Sharp, a production assistant at Disney. He was carrying a stack of boxes and introduced himself by saying something like, “Oh, I just saw two good-looking girls over here, so I decided to come over and say hello,” Lizzy recalls.

Later, in L.A., he invited them to a pool party. Evangelicals have a way of finding each other even in a city as sprawling as L.A., and at the party, Zina met Alexander Nifong, at the time a 25-year-old model, actor, and Christian seeker. Alex has had the kind of successes that a young actor needs to build a résumé—appearances on Law & Order and an episode of Glee—but that still required him to take on other work like juggling and stilt walking at birthday parties. He also played drums and sang in a band called Covering Fire.

“We spent the first thirty minutes of our meeting in complete silence, just looking at each other,” Alex recalls. “There was a loud kindness in her being.” Zina was in the middle of a 40-day fast (consuming only water and tea for the first 12 days and then drinking smoothies), and Alex had just returned from a spiritual excursion in the desert. He says he was tired of living an inauthentic life, so he went to a camping store, bought a tent and a water jug, packed his Prius, and drove straight into the desert. “I’ve kinda torn all over the place through every religion, through every belief system, looking for I guess what you could call truth,” he says.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/lahr-family-portrait-grayson_si.jpg","align":"left"}%}

“I gave away most of my possessions, settled all of my affairs, gave all of my keys to people I cared about, and said, ‘I don't know when I’m gonna be back, but it’s gonna be okay.’ I left a note for my parents.”

Alex and Zina spent the rest of 2012 together, though Zina, who was celibate, told people it was more of a friendship. She and Lizzy mostly couch-surfed with friends or stayed with Alex and his bandmates until she and Alex eventually grew apart. Zina lived at an Extended Stay hotel, which rents rooms by the week. Lizzy was working on an album as a singer-songwriter, and Zina continued to go to animation and comic conventions like Siggraph and Comikaze.  

At a book signing at Dark Delicacies, a specialty store in Burbank that focuses on horror and fantasy, she introduced herself to Edward Chiodo, one of the three Chiodo Brothers who created the puppets in Team America World Police, clay animations for several episodes of The Simpsons, and Large Marge from Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.

“I was at the table, and there was a line of people.  And then you look up and boom,” says Chiodo. “She just jumps out at you because of the way she dresses.”

Like many fans of the Chiodo Brothers, Zina asked Edward whether she could visit their studio in Burbank.  “So I brought her in, and everybody she met just really gravitated toward her,” Chiodo says. The team was working on a new skin technology for a walk-around dinosaur suit for the Santa Barbara Zoo. Zina asked for, and got, an internship.

Initially, she unsettled the higher-ups. When they would bring clients through the building, Chiodo recalls, “she would stop, make eye contact with these people, and walk over and introduce herself. It was like, ‘You’re an intern. You really shouldn’t be interjecting into a conversation that we’re having with Disney executives.’ At first, maybe I thought it was a little calculated, just because I have a jaded Hollywood sensibility, but then you spend five minutes with her and you instantly realize that’s not it. It’s just she was genuinely interested.”

Over the summer, a casting agent working for the SyFy channel contacted Ed Chiodo, asking if he knew anybody who could help carry a reality show on special-effects artists. “I told Zina, ‘You have to do this,’” he says. “Obviously, talent has a lot to do with it, but it’s a television show, so your look, who you are, is gonna be a huge draw.”

Deciding between doing the show—which, like most reality programs, would require her to stay locked in seclusion to avoid dishing out spoilers—and staying in Colorado to care for her grandmother wasn’t difficult. Patricia had helped raise her. “Zina and her grandma are real close,” says Cindy, still using the present tense.

Before Zina died, her family had already been through tragedy. On December 26, 2010, Zina’s older sister, Brianna, then 30 and seven months pregnant, was killed in a head-on collision on U.S. 385 near Channing, Texas. Colorado state senator Suzanne Williams was on her way to Vail when she accidentally crossed the median and collided with the car driven by Brianna’s husband, Eric Gomez, who survived. Brianna’s son, Curren, was delivered in the operating room, weighing three pounds one ounce. He’s now three.

Before walking out of her grandmother’s house last November 20 around 1:30 p.m., Zina had made smoothies and put baked potatoes in the oven for lunch with her grandmother. She had to return some library books and a DVD copy of Beasts of the Southern Wild. She must have headed up to the Perimeter Trail shortly after her errands, which was when Bob Risch saw her. When she didn’t come home by 6, Patricia became worried. It was out of character for Zina to just disappear like that. Patricia called Cindy at work.

“There was a blizzard that hit about that time, and so I could only go 30 miles an hour,” says Cindy, who immediately left her office to go home. “I would pull over and call Mom from time to time.”

Cindy also called Sean, whom Zina had been seeing again, in Telluride, as well as Zina’s half brother Brandon White, in Denver. Sean made the hourlong drive and joined a dozen others searching for Zina at around 9 p.m. in the dark and snow. Members of the sheriff’s department put out an all-points bulletin for Zina and joined the search.

By 3 a.m. it was still snowing hard, and there was no sign of Zina.  “I went over and spent the night with Cindy and we prayed,” says Sean.

At 11 the next morning, Steve Tarczewski, an acquaintance of Sean and Zina’s from Ridgway, hiked up toward Cascade Falls via the Perimeter Trail. He noticed a bit of color in the snow above it.

“She had kind of a crimson-colored shirt on, and it had snowed, so a lot of the fabric in her clothing was covered,” says Cindy. Zina’s tumble over a short cliff—maybe 10 to 20 feet—had left her on a slope well above the trail. At around the same time, Sean was searching an area called the Amphitheater, on the south side of town. He called the police to ask whether anybody had found anything. They had. “I said, ‘Is she alive?’ The policeman said, ‘I don’t know yet.’” Sean called Cindy.  

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/final-zinah-binocs_si.jpg","align":"right"}%}

“A friend of mine from the county courthouse had come over, and she took me up to the base of Cascade Falls,” Cindy says. “The police would not let me go up. They restrained me. They wouldn’t tell me if she was still alive. I was frantic. If it hadn’t been them physically holding me back, there’s nothing that could’ve held me.”

When Sean arrived, he didn’t have to ask whether Zina was dead. “I knew based on Cindy’s crying that that’s what had happened.”

They had the funeral at Cedar Hill Cemetery, north of town. Sean, along with friends from church and his bandmates from, Funkdafari, played. Morgan and Dave Hansow, a couple based in Grand Junction whom Zina had known from her time with a national Christian group called Young Life, led the service. Zina had done some animation work on a film called Moving On that the Hansows produced for their ministry in Uganda, Light Gives Heat.

Several people I spoke with told me that Zina had never really understood the idea of having a body. It felt foreign to her. On her blog she wrote, “the body, keeping us living in this world, [is] yet the biggest obstacle within it. It’s a sort of frustration, a growing pain, that can drive us to become inspired and into imaginative creativity.”

At the service, her friends made paper cranes, something Zina used to do absentmindedly. “Sitting at the coffee shop hanging out with her friends, she’d take little bits of paper and she’d fold them into paper cranes,” recalls Cindy. It was hard for even nonbelievers to dismiss the flock of sandhills that flew over during the service. The November 20 storm had blown them 100 miles from their normal migratory route and up an impassable box canyon in the Rocky Mountains.

Zina would have turned 24 today.

Grayson Schaffer wrote about Julia Mancuso in the February issue.

We are sad to report that Zina's grandmother Patricia died on February 18.

Read More

Why Duck Dynasty Can't Be Stopped

Back in December 2013, Phil Robertson, the bearded star of A&E’s Duck Dynasty, said some offensive things about black people and gay people. Robertson became the subject of boycotts and counter-boycotts, Cracker Barrel yanked his Duck Commander merch, and A&E suspended the show.

But outrage requires shock, and Robertson’s views shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone familiar with his empire. (While I’ve watched only a couple of episodes of Duck Dynasty, I confess to being a waterfowler and a casual fan of Robertson’s more baroque early work, a hook-and-bullet series on the Outdoor Channel called Duck Commander.)

The reality star’s rants about "gross sexual immorality" are all over the Internet. Robertson plays a stereotypically backward Deep South hillbilly. America’s outrage centered on the fact that Robertson embodied his caricature too well.

Robertson is the biggest star of the biggest boom in reality TV: hicksploitation. The genre laughs at (and sometimes with) the last group of people it’s still ostensibly OK to stereotype—white backwoodsy men. The modern iteration launched in 2011 with Animal Planet’s Hillbilly Handfishin’, about Oklahoma catfish noodlers, then MTV offered its West Virginia–based Buckwild. We have now waded deep into swamp country, with Discovery’s Swamp Loggers, the History Channel’s Swamp People, and Animal Planet’s Swamp Wars. But Duck Dynasty has dominated the category since debuting in March 2012. The season four premiere, in August 2013, netted A&E 11.8 million viewers. Last year, Duck Commander merchandise made more than $400 million. Viewers laugh, but the joke isn’t on the men in camo.

"They’re highly intelligent guys who don’t get anything pulled over on them," says Duck Dynasty executive producer Scott Gurney. "And they’re funny."

It’s also not a new trick. "The Andy Griffith Show, The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction—these were massive hits in the sixties," says Robert Thompson, a professor of popular culture at Syracuse University. "They were called hick-coms back then."

Why are the shows so popular now? It’s hard to say whether Americans like to laugh at rubes or are envious of men who can hunt all day and ignore basic hygiene. One thing is for sure—the shows are immensely profitable, in part because they’re cheaper to produce than man-versus-nature shows like Deadliest Catch. "Duck Dynasty and the rest of them have modest production values and location requirements," says Thompson.

Two days before Christmas, Cracker Barrel returned the Duckmen products to its shelves to appease angry customers. Four days later, A&E reinstated the show. Robertson didn’t comment, but his son Willie, CEO of Duck Commander products, tweeted, "Ole Phil may be a little crude but his heart is good. He’s the Real Deal!"

He’d better be. In January, Animal Planet unveiled its latest show, this one about a family of Canadian trappers called Beaver Brothers. Its star is a 65-year-old trapper named Charlie Landry. "I think you’ll like him for his expertise," says producer Keith Hoffman. "Plus he talks funny."

Read More

Discovery Enters Scripted TV Market with "Klondike"

Toward the beginning of Klondike, the Discovery Channel’s new drama about the 1897 Yukon Gold Rush, the show’s two primary stars, Abbie Cornish and Richard Madden, meet in a Dawson City saloon.

Cornish plays Belinda Mulrooney, the indomitable owner of a timber mill; Madden is Bill Haskell, a stout-hearted Vermonter who’s come west to seek his fortune. He’s about the only miner in Dawson City with a shred of decency. Mulrooney, detecting as much, orders a round. A greedy stew of miners, hookers, fiddlers, and grifters surrounds them. The local preacher, played by Sam Shepard, is notably absent. “Gold’s a whore,” Belinda warns. “You may lust after her, may even think you love her, but you don’t need her.”

If gold’s a whore, then Discovery runs a busy brothel. In recent years the first network in adventure television has offered Gold Rush, Jungle Gold, and Bering Sea Gold. This latest offering, though, is decidedly new. Klondike is Discovery’s debut scripted drama, a six-hour, three-part series that premiered on Monday and wraps up this evening.

Based off Charlotte Gray’s 2010 historical account, Gold Diggers (liberties are taken onscreen), directed by Simon Cellan Jones and co-produced by Ridley Scott, Klondike seems to be an effort to carve out a place alongside HBO and Showtime, at least for a moment. In addition to Madden and Cornish, the network invested in Tim Roth, who plays a sociopathic entrepreneur known only as The Count; Shepard, the town’s preacher and conscience; and newcomer Johnny Simmons, who serves as a young, story-collecting Jack London.

Six hours is an 800-meter race—not enough to stand up to a full-length series, and too much for a movie. A few plot lines come undone early, others drag on too long. But the acting is terrific, the writing is mostly good, and the scenery—Alberta's Spray Lakes stand in for the frozen Yukon River—is spectacular. Echoes of HBO's Deadwood are apparent from the opening credits, and although Klondike isn't nearly as tightly wound, it's certainly entertaining. The avalanches and wolves (real ones, not the CGI variety) only help.

 The series follows Haskell as he and a partner, Byron Epstien (Augustus Prew) head north seeking adventure and money. They manage to escape a thunderous avalanche—Discovery moved 300 tons of snow and used nine bags of explosives to create the scene—but Epstein quickly succumbs to a rifle shot to the gut from a jealous miner below a canopy of northern lights.

The show’s primary plot hinges on Haskell’s quest for vengeance and the romance with Mulrooney. She, meanwhile, engages in a vicious power struggle with Roth’s Count for control of the town’s timber. Roth, feral and typically brilliant, is unfortunately given short shrift in favor of Haskell, who can be cloyingly noble. Part of Deadwood’s genius was putting the bad guy up front. But when The Count takes the lead, Klondike is delicious. 

“What would you like to confess,” Shepard’s preacher asks him in church.

“Arson, murder,” says The Count.

“When did you commit these acts?”

“Well, I haven’t, yet,” Roth snaps.

Eventually, greed overwhelms, the bodies pile up, and so do the platitudes. Just about everybody starts offering newfound wisdom about gold’s corrupting power.

Haskell intones, “While we seek out gold and abstractions like justice, death only seeks more.” After striking it rich he contemplates skipping town to start a farm. Mulrooney supports the idea, saying that her lover is “too damned good for the Yukon.”

But that’s not true. The real Bill Haskell, we're told, returned to the Yukon one last time, and that didn’t go well. The allure of the north is strong. Discovery knows as much—Monday’s premiere episode drew 3.4 million viewers. Whether or not the network dives headlong into scripted drama remains to be seen, but it’s probably a safe bet that the gold rush will continue.

Read More

Free Newsletters

Dispatch This week's featured articles, reviews, and videos. Sent twice weekly.
News From the Field The most important breaking news from around the Web. Sent daily.
Outside GOOur hottest adventure-travel tips and trips. Sent occasionally.
Outside Partners Outside-approved deals and special offers from select partners. Sent occasionally.

Subscribe
to Outside
Save Over
70%

Magazine Cover

iPad Outside+ App Access Now Included!

Categories

Authors

Advertisement

$ad.smallDesc

$ad.smallDesc

$ad.smallDesc

Previous Posts

2014

2013

2012

Blog Roll

Current Issue Outside Magazine

Subscribe and get a great deal! Two free Buyer's Guides plus a free GoLite Sport Bottle. Monthly delivery of Outside—your ultimate resource for today's active lifestyle. All that and big savings!

Free Newsletters

Dispatch This week's featured articles, reviews, and videos. Sent twice weekly.
News From the Field The most important breaking news from around the Web. Sent daily.
Gear of the Day The latest products, reviews, and editors' picks. Coming soon.
Outside Partners Outside-approved deals and special offers from select partners. Sent occasionally.

Ask a Question

Our gear experts await your outdoor-gear-related questions. Go ahead, ask them anything.

* We might edit your question for length or clarity. If it's not about gear, we'll just ignore it.