Paul Walker, Bruce Greenwood, Jason Biggs, Moon Bloodgood
|In his first directing job since "Congo," Frank Marshall helms "Eight Below," a Disney film inspired by both a true story and a Japanese film called "Nankyoku Monogatari." The story evolves around Jerry (Paul Walker), a resident guide at the National Science Research base in Antarctica, and his relationship with his pack of eight dogs.
The dogs in "Eight Below" are absolutely mesmerizing and, without a doubt, the stars of the film. They are amazingly trained, emotionally expressive and endearing throughout the film. Jerry is joined at the Space Station by cartographer "Coop" (Jason Biggs, who provides much of the spark and comic relief here), pilot Katie (Moon Bloodgood), with whom Jerry's previously had a relationship and still feels a bit of a spark. Into the mix is thrown scientific wonderboy David (Bruce Greenwood), who arrives via Katie to search for a meteorite from the planet Mercury.
While the human performances here are quite functional, director Frank Marshall wisely chooses to focus on the dogs (6 Huskies and 2 Malamutes). When an unexpected catastrophic storm hits the area, it is simply awesome to watch these dogs in action and the way their individual personalities shine. A near disaster ends in immediate evacuation and, due to lack of room, the dogs are left behind only when Jerry's reassured that a plane will come right back to get them.
"Eight Below" beautifully balances the exploration of Jerry's relationship to the dogs and his battle to get back to save these dogs who, in fact, have saved him and others along with the dogs' own fight for survival against nearly impossible odds. It is primarily in these scenes of survival for the dogs that "Eight Below" really shines. The scenery is marvelous and the dogs display such remarkable personality that it is practically impossible to not be moved by their sense of teamwork, loyalty and courage.
Paul Walker adapts well to the Disney way of filmmaking. He does border, at times, on that same one-note heroic approach that Josh Lucas fell prey to in the recent "Glory Road," however, generally he presents a likeable, easygoing scientist willing to risk it all for what he loves.
Biggs, in particular, shines in his supporting role and he gives the film its much needed personality and spark. Bloodgood, Greenwood and the rest of the cast have a nice chemistry which helps to overcome weaknesses in their character development.
Mark Isham's score is a perfect accompaniment to the film's scenery, particular when accompanying the dogs on their journey to survive. The production design is often stunning, but remarkably and noticeably weak on more than one occasion including a "Northern Lights" camera shot that is clearly manufactured and I couldn't help but wonder how small children would respond to one or two scenes of the dogs surviving by eating dead animals. While not graphic, these scenes were a bit jarring from the general sense of serenity and fluid energy within the film.
"Eight Below" is a marvelous family film and, barring the previously mentioned dead animal scenes, there's nothing here to offend or disturb. Being a Disney film, certain aspects of "Eight Below" are quite predictable, including the ending. However, "Eight Below" is a film that is much more about the journey than it is the final destination. It is the journey of these sled dogs that makes "Eight Below" an enjoyable and entertaining film for the entire family.
|© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic