Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Eight Below

Title: Eight Below (2006)
Dir: Frank Marshall
Tagline: The Most Amazing Story Of Survival, Friendship, And Adventure Ever Told.
Rating: *** out of 5 stars

For the Diamondback....

If there is one thing Disney still excels at, it is melting the audience’s heart with cute furry animals. Frank Marshall’s Eight Below proves just that, with eight beautiful, charismatic dogs, who don’t need the voices of Robin Williams or Whoopi Goldberg to make child and adult alike fall in love with them.

Inspired by true 1957 events, Eight Below tells the story of a dogsled team who are left to fend for themselves in the tundra for almost six months after a freak storm leaves them abandoned. A remake of the 1983 Japanese blockbuster Antarctica, the film has a well-trained canine cast and a few two-legged actors that are not quite as appealing.

On a National Science Foundation Research Base in Antarctica, snow guide Gerry Shepherd (Paul Walker, The Fast and the Furious) is asked to accompany Dr. Davis McClaren (Bruce Greenwood, I Robot) on an expedition to find meteorites. Gerry, uncertain of terrain conditions, fears for his sled dogs to whom he has greatly bonded. The expedition is successful, but when a nasty storm hits, Gerry and Davis are injured and brought home to safety by the team of loyal dogs.

As the storm worsens, the research base must be evacuated, but the dogs will have to be picked up on a second plane trip. Much to Gerry’s dismay, the storm gets so bad that the dogs cannot be rescued at all. Left all alone, the animals break free of their leashes and roam the Arctic to survive. Back home, Gerry tries desperately for months to raise enough money to go find his dogs, dead or alive.

Hereafter, the film alternates between Gerry’s struggle with guilt for having left the dogs and the animals’ perilous struggle to survive on their own. Periodically, a subtitle reminds the audience how many days the dogs have been alone, and each time you cannot help but wince, especially when the count tops 100 days.

Dogs aside, the film is pretty average. Walker and Greenwood are believable and two of the better human actors in the movie. Jason Biggs (American Pie), who plays the base’s cartographer, is supposed to be the film’s comic relief but is quite obnoxious. Another drawback is the special FX, including some bad CG leopard seals and a well-meaning but altogether fake aurora borealis.

The human scenes can be a burden to watch. Their best purpose in the film is to serve as emotional relief from the heart-wrenching animal scenes. Dog lovers especially will be moved by the eight animal stars, who feel like real characters, not just living props. The movie thankfully refrains from talking animals, instead allowing the dogs to convey their charm and intelligence as they naturally do.

If you see this movie with kids, expect Niagara Falls of tears. Even for grownups it can get pretty tense and emotional. Frank Marshall, who also directed Alive, has experience making snow look terrifying, which he again accomplishes here.

The movie is really geared toward children and families, but for adults who like Disney movies, there should be enough to entertain. Do not expect anything above-average, though. It is a run-of-the-mill family film, but at least it’s not Snow Dogs. Banality aside, Eight Below tugs at the heartstrings, and makes you feel an overwhelming need to go home and hug your dogs.