It would be easy to dismiss this movie about dogs stranded in the Antarctic as just another Disney wildlife film, not unlike those the studio churned out during the 1950s and '60s. But Eight Below is a rattling good yarn and not as kiddies-oriented as its trailers would have you believe. An expedition to the South Pole, commissioned by Dr. Davis McClaren (Bruce Greenwood), comes to an abrupt end and requires the immediate evacuation of everyone in the camp. Youthful guide Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker) is forced to leave behind the eight huskies that made up his dogsled team, forcing the canines to fend for themselves while he tries unsuccessfully to mount a rescue effort. Director Frank Marshall juggles two sets of characters -- humans and huskies -- and does an altogether admirable job. The efforts of the stranded dogs to scavenge food and keep from freezing are detailed with remarkable realism, and a combination of scene compositions, camera angles, and ingenious editing makes it appear that the dogs are communicating with each other. The human performers, for their parts, have the advantage of being given dialogue, and they make the most of it. As the film's nominal star, Walker does a better-than-adequate job, but secondary lead Greenwood nearly steals the show with his superior performance as the scientist who regrets leaving the dogs behind -- especially because they saved his life on the trip to the camp -- but sees it as the only real option. At times Eight Below is pretty grim, befitting the predicament of its four-legged protagonists, but all in all it's a stirring and uplifting drama that will entertain adults as well as kids.
Embedded in the children's movie Eight Below is a story that appeals to adults. Unfortunately, it emerges only in the first half. Disney's tale of eight sled dogs abandoned during an Antarctic storm, the film definitely starts out with the rhythms of a harrowing adventure. Screenwriter David DiGillio lays the groundwork, offering an insider's look at the world of Antarctic exploration, as well as the unique personality types who make the sourthernmost land mass their area of expertise, among them Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker). Jerry's transportation of a scientist (Bruce Greenwood) to a remote mountain -- a treacherous trip Jerry advises against -- turns into a handful of thrilling set pieces, involving caverns hidden by snow, frigid waters, storms, the threat of frostbite, and a heroic group of exceptionally trained dogs. Combine that with some lighter moments and some gorgeous cinematography, and Eight Below has a great vibe going. It's when the humans must evacuate that the movie wanders into the precious territory of a kiddie film, losing track of that vibe. Whenever director Frank Marshall checks in on the dogs, the jaunty flute music kicks in, and the action tends to take on the whimsy of a talking animal movie. There's also a certain inauthenticity to these passages, since they involve imagining how the dogs might survive in this environment without humans -- a speculative exercise at best. Meanwhile, as Jerry makes repeated attempts to get back to them, even through political channels back in the U.S., his character is sentenced to a lot of frowning and looking forlorn -- a stark contrast from the man of action we saw in the first half. Eight Below exceeds expectations by quite a bit, but it would be even better if the second half could match the first -- and if it were 20 minutes shorter.
|Source:||Walt Disney Video|
|Sound:||[Dolby AC-3 Surround Sound]|