The Real Snow Dogs
In 1958 a Japanese expedition to the South Pole went horribly wrong and after a dramatic rescue 15 huskies had to be left behind. Nearly a year later one of the dog handlers returned to do the honourable thing and bury the dogs which were presumed to be dead yet he was greeted by two of them. This remarkable true story formed the basis for a Japanese film called "Nankyoku Monogatari" which was released back in 1983 and in turn was the inspiration for Disney's movie "Eight Below". Even if you are unaware of the true story which "Eight Below" is based upon it is still a marvellous movie, maybe a little too Disney-fied if you know what I mean, but entertaining and engrossing.
Whilst on a scientific expedition to the Antarctic, Dr. Davis McClaren (Bruce Greenwood - Saving Milly) and dog handler Jerry Shephard (Paul Walker - Into the Blue) find themselves close to death when a major storm quickly moves in. Making it back to the main camp they are airlifted out but Jerry is forced to leave behind his beloved huskies. Desperate to get back and rescue his dogs it soon becomes apparent to Jerry that no one will take him as the Winter weather makes it impossible to reach and as the days and months pass he is forced to accept that his dogs will have died in the bad weather.
Whilst the true story behind "Eight Below" is amazing something else which is quite amazing is that for a movie where despite drama you know that to kill all the dogs off would be too cruel and so at least some must survive it still keeps you gripped. It may not get you to the edge of your seat in eager anticipation but you become attached to the story, the beautiful dogs and their handler Jerry so that you do want to know how it all ends up. It's something which Disney does so well, they can turn an obvious story into something a little special, an adventure which draws you in and that is exactly what "Eight Below" is, an adventure movie which draws you in.
There are almost 3 separate sections to "Eight Below" and whilst each of them are heavily coated in manufactured emotion, tension and drama they work well. It starts of setting up the story, the bond which Jerry has with his team of dogs (Max, Maya, Old Jack, Shadow, Buck, Truman, Dewey, Shorty) as along with Dr. McClaren they battle the elements and danger to miraculously get back to camp when the storm hits. It sets the pace for the action and drama which is to follow through out the movie and although it at times feels a little too manufactured it works, it makes it exciting.
And then having set up the scene with the dogs left behind it splits into two storylines which intertwine. We watch Jerry's desperate to get back to the camp to rescue his dogs and the slow realisation that it's not going to happen. And at the same time we watch the dogs, there escape from there chains, and resourcefulness when it comes to surviving. It is very much the adventures of the dogs which makes "Eight Below" so interesting as they take on human characteristics of loyalty, respect, kindness and so on. Maybe it's wrong that these animals take on these characteristics but it means when they are in danger, hungry and close to death you feel for them ,desperate for them to survive. And as such you feel the same compassion and emotion as Jerry as he struggles to return.
All of which is good, it makes for a seriously entertaining movie even if at times it is a little cheesy as it tries to manufacture certain emotions. But there are a few niggles most notably at 120 minutes there are times where "Eight Below" struggles to keep the momentum going, making it feel drawn out as director Frank Marshall seems so enamoured by the locations that he has too share all of its beauty with you. Yes it is beautiful but there are only so many scenic shots you can take.
Another niggle is the forced humorous side with Jason Biggs seemingly cast to deliver various jokes. There is a moment of irony in "Eight Below" where Dr. McClaren asks Biggs' character Cooper what does he do and I wondered exactly the same. Yes Biggs' character has a point but all the jokes which Biggs delivers almost feel out of place, far too heavy and obvious to fit in with the storyline. It's misjudged meddling to have cast Biggs because what the movie needed was light hearted moments not full on comedy.
Aside from Biggs the acting for the most is good, Paul Walker manages to deliver those tender moments as Jerry when he shows the despair of basically sentencing his beloved dogs to death by leaving them behind. Although saying that there are times when Walker's delivery of lines ends up sounding more action hero than upset dog handler. And Bruce Greenwood delivers real emotion as Dr. McClaren who you can see emanates the gratitude towards Jerry and his remarkable dogs for saving his life.
But the real stars of "Eight Below" are the various huskies which play those important dogs Max, Maya, Old Jack, Shadow, Buck, Truman, Dewey, Shorty. Each one is so well trained and have a human trait to them so that you feel connected with each and everyone of them.
What this all boils down to is that "Eight Below" is a very entertaining movie which despite being a little obvious in the outcome keeps you engaged with its mix of adventure and emotion. It does have its problems especially the comedy which feels out of place and is to be frank a little overlong but it achieves what it sets out to be, that is a heart warming tale about the bond between a man and his dogs.
Tags: Dog Movies