film review **: ...Eight Below... a Warm Antarctic Movie
Disney Brings the Canine Connection to the Big Screen
By Alice Macdonald
Directed by Frank Marshall
Screenplay by David Digilio
Starring Paul Walker, Jason Biggs, Moon Bloodgood
Walt Disney Pictures
OK, I admit it, I did not decide to review Disney’s latest inspiring Antarctic adventure film out of my love for Huskies. I was planning to watch the movie and then systematically rip it to shreds in my review. To my surprise, upon actually seeing “Eight Below” — which stars Paul Walker, Jason Biggs, and God knows how many dogs — I have to admit that it was not the worst movie I have seen this past year.
The chief faults of “Eight Below” are its lack of depth and forgettable plot — there is none of the complex storyline, interesting characters, and creativity that make excellent action/adventure movies. Thanks to beautiful scenery, lots of melodramatic music, and sporadic exciting scenes, many viewers, especially those who are a little younger, will not miss these elements. Don’t get me wrong — this is definitely not a film strictly for kids — the dogs don’t talk, and at 120 minutes, it’s probably too long and boring for little ones.
The film opens with seemingly endless shots of expansive wintry landscapes. The filmmakers did a great job here, as these shots are gorgeous. Once the people enter, however, it becomes clear that the movie is not subtle. The script force-feeds every element of the film to the audience, so that nobody has to think. All the characters and conflicts are established very quickly, an easy task considering how shallow and uncomplicated they are. Gerry (Paul Walker) is a guide who really likes his sled dogs, Charlie (Jason Biggs) is the comic relief, Katie (Moon Bloodgood) is the girl, and they all laugh and play in Antarctica. The acting is shaky at the start and, regretfully, Jason Biggs is not at all funny. He moves in a large and exaggerated way, which doesn’t seem quite right. This leads to a couple of moments when even the actors have trouble faking a laugh.
The plot begins with a UCLA scientist arriving to look for a meteorite from Mercury — an incentive I found a tad lame. Although it is late in the season, Gerry decides to take the scientist to a mountain for his research, despite the dangerous weather conditions. The dogs lead them to the peak, where the scientist finds his dumb rock and there is some obvious foreshadowing about scary leopard seal moments to come. Several exciting Antarctic minutes later, Gerry, the scientist, the rock, and the dogs barely make it back to the main camp. They are all forced to evacuate sans pooches because of an impending storm!
From here on, the movie gets better. The humans take a backseat and the viewers are treated to some terrific canine acting. Each dog has a developed personality and I felt more compassion for these characters than the humans. We watch as most of the eight sled dogs miraculously survive 200 days fending for themselves in the bitter winter. Predictably, Gerry finally finds a way back to his dogs and the scene that follows is clich d, but bearable. He thinks the dogs are dead, but wait … he hears barking, and slowly one dog and then the whole pack appears on the horizon, running toward his open arms.
Above all, “Eight Below” is a nature movie riding the waves of last year’s successful “March of the Penguins” and Werner Herzog’s “Grizzly Man.” Perhaps Disney decided to hop on the bandwagon, but had to bastardize the genre with their requisite “Disney” elements — including a gag-inducing scene featuring a shooting star, which made me fear one of the characters would spontaneously break out into a rendition of “When You Wish Upon a Star.” I am happy to say that even Disney can’t completely ruin a good thing; if you need an escape and some brain candy, you could do worse than seeing “Eight Below,” one of Disney’s better efforts in recent years.