Eight Below
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Frank Marshall
scr Dave DiGilio
with Paul Walker, Bruce Greenwood, Jason Biggs, Moon Bloodgood, Gerard Plunkett, Belinda Metz, August Schellenberg, Wendy Crewson, Connor Christopher Levins, Duncan Fraser, Dan Ziskie, Michael David Simms
release US 17.Feb.06,
UK 20.Apr.06
06/US Disney 2h00

Happy family: Walker, Bloodgood and friends

walker biggs greenwood

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Eight Below "Inspired" by a true story and thoroughly Disneyfied by changing the characters into 1990s Americans (they were really 1950s Japanese explorers) and giving the dogs human qualities. It's entertaining and sweet, and rather annoyingly fake.

A skilled guide at an isolated Antarctic base, Jerry (walker) knows it's not a good idea to take a two-day journey across cracking ice fields. But the client (Greenwood) is insistent, so off they go. They make it back, thanks to Jerry's team of eight sled dogs, but they're forced to evacuate without the dogs. It'll be six long months until Jerry, his buddy (Biggs) and gal-pal pilot (Bloodgood) are able to go back. There's no way eight dogs could survive an Antarctic winter alone. Or could they?

Herein lies the problem with Disneyfication. We know full well what's going to happen, and instead of leave any doubt, we get the parallel stories of Jerry trying to mount a rescue and the dogs taking their Incredible Journey. It's beautifully filmed, with lots of adventure and peril, but we never have any doubts. So it's not hugely exciting. We're left to enjoy the acting (by humans and dogs), the cinematography and the spectacularly snowy cinematography.

Walker is fine in the role; he's always surprisingly likeable, and we do feel his connection with the dogs, his only real family. Biggs gets the wacky Steve Zahn role, joking at every turn and livening things up whenever he's on screen. Greenwood and Bloodgood fill their cliched shoes better than the script deserved. And the dogs are terrific, although the filmmakers give them human personalities so we can see which one is heroic, generous, selfless, stupid, and so on.

This is a very cheap storytelling device, and it's sad to say that it works perfectly. (Although the cheap CGI seal-monster thing isn't quite as convincing.) If there'd been a slight sense of intelligence about the script, or more raw honesty in the storyline, this could have been a ripping true-life tale of bravery and emotion that would have engaged grown ups as much as the doggy-loving kids.

cert PG some suspense, mild grisliness 5.Mar.06

R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Eight Below Donna R Carter, Wisconsin: "The theater was packed with families and a few times I could hear kids asking questions and parents explaining things throughout the movie, but it wasn't obnoxious. At one point in the movie, I was pushed back in my seat in surprise. Even though I saw it coming, the way that the scene drew me in was very effective (I wasn't alone in my reaction, there was a wave of laughter through the theater for a couple of minutes after that). The plot wasn't complex, but it was believable (based on a true story). The characters were likeable and the dogs were fabulous. It was a simple, family kind of movie, but be aware that there are points where animals are eating other animals which may make some people squeamish. Laughter, danger, sadness, joy -- I thought it a well-rounded movie, with a nice, feel-good ending." (19.Feb.06)

Laurie T, Minneapolis: "what can I say - go see this movie - it is awesome! the dogs are beautiful, the scenery is breathtaking and the whole movie is very well done. As 'animal people' we could totally identify with the need to go back to save the dogs. We have discussed this - if we could ever leave our cats in an emergency - we probably couldn't. All I can say is this movie was wonderful." (1.Mar.06)

2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall