Less Disaster More Survivor
Technically you could call "Alive" a disaster movie, because in many ways it follows a similar formula of an accident then the battle to survive. But "Alive" is not a big Hollywood disaster movie which thrives on big effects and bigger theatrical performances from its stars. It's more about the battle to survive on a more human level and being based on the true story of a Uruguayan rugby team stranded in the Andes it is more real and more believable.
Based on the amazing true story "Alive" revolves around a Uruguayan rugby team who whilst flying over the Andes into Chile fall victim to a plane crash. With many of their friends killed in the accident, the remaining survivors group together to do whatever it takes to survive in the freezing cold mountains with little food and no way to contact anyone to rescue them.
What is evident from the start is that "Alive" is a different sort of movie, a little bit raw as it heads away from a glossy Hollywood production to something which for me is more akin to an indie movie. The opening sequences which culminate with the crash into the Andes is spectacular, but not in a big budget sort of way. When the tail gets snapped off, or when the surviving section goes careering down the mountain side it feels like a proper crash full of mayhem and fear, not one which has been orchestrated to bring excitement through the effects or bravado performances.
This attachment to realism continues through out the movie, there are no outlandish heroes who step up to save the day. You get a real sense of these are just normal guys who share a bond being from the same rugby team and as such work as a team to try and survive. It makes a pleasant change that in what is a disaster movie it's more about how as a group they survive rather than through one man's efforts. Even when the storyline builds and a group head off to try and navigate across the rocky peaks to find help, those who head off are still normal guys, they're not over the top heroes. It works so well to keep things realistic.
But what is also so good is the wonderful storyline which thanks to the collaboration with one of the survivors, Nando Parrado, runs very close to the actual events. You get a real sense of how tough things were for these young men, their hope of being rescued withering away every day they remained in the snowy mountains, what little food they had running out with people dieing around them, it was rough and the movie delivers this aspects brilliantly. But it also discovers the psychological aspect, how mental strength starts to wither away the longer they remained there, team ethics get thrown out the window when the realisation that no one was coming from them hits home and it's wonderful to watch this change in the characters. Plus of course their is the physical change, and over the four months it took to shoot, all those stars lost weight to make their characters all the more believable, in some cases quite scarily so.
Aside from this battle for survival, "Alive" throws up some serious elements, one of which was having to resort to eating the dead to survive. It's a marvellous series of scenes as the subject is broached, the look of disdain on some of the survivors faces at the thought of eating another human. It's not overly hard hitting but it is thought provoking and as such director Frank Marshall does a brilliant job of controlling this side of the movie so it neither becomes too disgusting or farcical. Simply he keeps it real, which is what makes "Alive" such a good movie.
What is slightly wrong about "Alive" is to try and stop things ending up to heavy and serious there are some lighter moments, a sort of humour in the face of death scenes. In many ways it helps because it stops things becoming too morbid but then some of it feels overly manufactured a little out of place in what is a touching emotional drama.
Now whilst many of the actors who appear in "Alive" have become bigger stars since, the fact that at the time none were major Hollywood names helps. Some may argue that Ethan Hawke and Vincent Spano along with Illeana Douglas were all recognizable names but in my book they weren't the sort of names which guaranteed a movies success. What is true though is that with no big star names there is no star performance, the sort which stands out above the rest, stealing scenes from the supporting cast. Instead we have a movie which works because all actors are equal; they all share the limelight delivering entertaining performances that capture the sense of fear, despair, paranoia which these men and women went through in the Andes.
What this all boils down to is that "Alive" is a very good movie, although one which for some may find a little tedious for it's avoidance of being too polished or glossy. The storyline alone is wonderful, but the controlled performances, the restrained production and the delivery of emotion all work to create a disaster movie which feels believable, real and not over the top for one second.