Friday, February 17, 2006

Eight Below - Movie Review

Eight Below 2006

Hullo, kiddies. You know, sometimes we have been accused of not attending enough of the populace fare. You know. The stupid, aimed at ‘tards kind of filmmaking so beloved by fat housewives in Dubuque and pimple faced drop outs in Peoria. Fine. We’re okay with that misconception. But we decided to prove our critics wrong by trouncing out to the local multiplex to check out the latest “Family Picture” courtesy of the famed Disney studios. After sitting thru roughly seventeen hours of previews for the forthcoming Disney films, we sat back to witness “Eight Below”.

Eight Below” is not a porn movie, although with the central role going to our future husband, the heart stoppingly gorgeous Paul Walker, we are hoping he has at least a good “eight” going on “below” – if you know what we mean. Not that we’re size queens, but let’s face it girls – you can’t stir the soup with a toothpick. Moving on. “Eight Below” is actually a remake of the Japanese flick from a couple of decades past, “Antarctica / Nankyoku Monogatari”. That little Nipponese flick related the dramatic real life adventure of a group of sled dogs that had been “inadvertently” left behind to die in the subzero cold and had miraculously survived several months in the harsh winter. Now that little factoid should hopefully help dispel those nasty rumors about Asians and their dogs. For shame, people. (It’s cats, not dogs.)

The storyline is fairly simple. A geologist funds a mission to go in search of rare meteorites. The research station base is the home of one stunningly sexy and well built guide played by our future husband, Paul Walker.

His companions consist of one older crusty boss, a lesbian in search of a good conditioner, a perky and slutty pilot who keeps making eyes at our future husband and one goofball who wandered in off the set of the “American Pie” movies. Oh, yes. And eight sled dogs. A mix of huskies and malamutes, these pooches are the real stars of the movie, despite our future husband’s smoldering looks.

When the geologist and our future husband venture off in search of meteorites, they encounter some unexpected troubles that nearly costs them their lives. Meanwhile, back at the ranch the mother of all storms is coming in forcing a hasty escape once the team in the field finally makes it back – frostbitten and broken but still intact. While the initial near death experience on the frozen tundra might be the dramatic finale to other films, it is merely the prelude to the real drama to come. While the humans might have escaped the brunt of the storm, they are forced to leave the dogs chained behind in the vain hope of being able to return for them. Turns out, not so much.

Eight Below” surprised us. While we have declared our undying love for Paul Walker, and respect the talents of Bruce Greenwood who portrays the geologist – we will go on record as saying that we have never been particularly fond of dogs. We think of “Old Yeller” as a comedy. It always cracks us up when Travis grabs the shotgun and lets ‘er rip! Woo-hoo! But we digress. The charm and ultimate success of this film is the truly wonderful scenes that fill the second half of the flick. The eight dogs in their near miraculous struggle to survive the harshest winter known to man.

The film is directed by Frank Marshall, who scored four Oscar nominations in his other career as a producer, frequently in collaboration with Steven Spielberg. From his earlier directorial efforts, we might not have expected much from the man who helmed “Arachnophobia” and “Congo”. If it were not for one other little film that Mr. Marshall directed, we might have given up hope completely prior to setting foot in the theatre to view “Eight Below.” That other film is also one of near miraculous survival in a wintry landscape, also based on a true story.

It was called “Alive”, starring Ethan Hawke, Vincent Spano, Josh Lucas and narrated by John Malkovich. It was based on the true harrowing adventure that occurred when a Uruguayan rugby team’s plane crashed into the Andes, and the survivors suffering and despair turned to an unprecedented darkness when they chose to eat the dead. Good times. The critical consensus at the time praised the tone and feel of the film, the unparalleled depiction of the plane crash, and the talented cast – but many took exception to the flowery language used by screenwriter John Patrick Shanley, an Oscar winner for his bright work on “Moonstruck.” He would go on to win the triple crown of Broadway for his recent play about the Catholic Church and child abuse – “Doubt”. Copping the Pulitzer Prize, Tony Award and Drama Desk Award. We actually love the screenplay to “Alive” – we feel it is the first time any writer has ever written the rhythms of the Spanish language into English. It is a film that manages to capture the horrible despair, innate strengths of the doomed team players, and their final redemption. Go rent it now! But you might want to eat beforehand.

Back to the doggies. There adventures are told in a blessedly cool and simple fashion. Never resorting to cloying shots or god forbid, human voices to speak their thoughts. This is a Disney film folks, it coulda happened. While they begin their journey, we are treated to shots of their beloved master attempting to find help from the government, the military, private organizations and ultimately begging the geologist himself – who owes his very life to the brave pooches to assist in funding a return trip to search for any possible survivors. Although, for us those scenes would have worked better if Paul had been wearing less clothing. Just a thought.

Now, being wizened moviegoers, we felt pretty sure that their return would discover at least a few of the dogs intact. The actual count, the harrowing complications that occur during their long days alone, and the sacrifices involved we will leave to you and your family to witness. This is indeed a family film. Perhaps not one for very young children, it is still rated “PG” for a reason. Children shouldn’t have to know how cruel and unforgiving life can be until they are at least, oh we’ll say two years old. Then they should be ready to face the hard facts of life.

Our praise for the storytelling and emotional connection we as an audience make with the sled dogs is not without a quibble or two. The goofball character, as portrayed by Jason Biggs is far more of an irritant than comical relief. For a professional cartographer, he is about as mature as one of the dogs steamy droppings. And by the umpteenth set up of an already tired joke – we wanted to scream, WE GET IT! Dogs freak you out! You don’t like them to lick you! This of course means you get more dog on manboy action than in a remake of “Caligula.”

But we quibble. The film needs to succeed on the strengths of the dogs, their dreamy eyed master and his ability to express his burning desire to rescue them and finally in the inevitable return voyage months after they abandoned the dogs, to see how many if any are left alive. For that you shall have to go see for yourselves. And you should. Just keep you clammy paws off our future husband, Paul Walker or we’ll be forced to abandon you alone on a glacier with a wad of chewing gum and eyebrow pencil. And we wish you good luck with that! Bless you All!

Directed by Frank Marshall
Written by David DiGilio
Based on the film Antarctica / Nankyoku Monogatari

Paul Walker as Gerry Shepherd
Bruce Greenwood as Davis McLaren
Jason Biggs as Cooper
Moon Bloodgood as Katie

Cinematography by Don Burgess
Film Editing by Christopher Rouse
Original Music by Mark Isham
Production Design by John Willett
Art Direction by Ross Dempster & Jeremy Stanbridge
Set Decoration by Peter Lando


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