Only an extraordinarily hubristic film would declare itself “The Most Amazing Story of Survival, Friendship, and Adventure Ever Told,” but then again, Frank Marshall’s Eight Below is nothing if not upfront about its epic melodramatic aspirations. Loosely adapted from a 1983 Japanese movie called Nankyoku Monogatari that was supposedly based on a true story, this passable Disney adventure is like a canine version of director Marshall’s Alive minus the cannibalism, following the dual exploits of eight abandoned Antarctic sled dogs as they attempt to survive a historically ferocious winter, and their “expedition guy” master Jerry Shepherd (Paul Walker) as he desperately tries to return to the southernmost continent to rescue his beloved huskies. Essentially two films grafted together, Eight Below wisely avoids Snow Dogs-style over-anthropomorphization during its scenes of the dogs struggling to endure hunger, injury, and the vicious weather, allowing their bestial inclinations—seen in more than one act of selfish self-preservation—to coexist with their more sentimentally portrayed acts of teamwork and togetherness. This narrative half is further bolstered by both Don Burgess’s stunning on-location cinematography, which effectively captures the imposing breadth and brutality of the inhospitable Antarctic landscape, as well as by a mature reluctance to sugarcoat the dogs’ dire dilemma by ignoring the ever-present threat of death. It won’t surprise anyone familiar with Walker’s vapid pretty-boy screen presence that he’s outshone by his furry castmates, whose portrait of devotion and solidarity—though obviously aided by some creative editing—is far more credible and affecting than the two-legged star’s perfunctory moping. Whenever it turns its attention toward Jerry and his dealings with former flame Katie (Moon Bloodgood), cartography sidekick Charlie (Jason Biggs, an idiot grin affixed to his face) and scientist Davis McClaren (Bruce Greenwood), the film becomes beset by rigor mortis-level stiffness at odds with the grandiose corniness of whimpering pooches licking and nuzzling each other. Ultimately, neither human nor doggie storylines ever come close to warranting a “most amazing ever” moniker. But as a shameless stab at kid-friendly uplift, Eight Below, at least during its Animal Planet-ish segments, nonetheless has a benignly cheesy, big-emotive charm.
- Walt Disney Pictures
- 120 min
- Frank Marshall
- David DiGilio
- Paul Walker, Bruce Greenwood, Jason Biggs, Moon Bloodgood, Gerard Plunkett, August Schellenberg, Wendy Crewson, Belind Metz
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