In the dying days of what passes for summer in the Antarctic, Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker) reluctantly agrees to guide geologist Davis (Bruce Greenwood) to a distant sector of Antarctica in search of meteor fragments. Jerry's ex girlfriend, the bush pilot Katie (Moon Goodblood), radios a storm warning to get the duo out of the ice, just as Davis is rescued after an accident by their pack of eight sled dogs. The evacuation is successful but for the dogs, who have to be left behind until a return trip is possible. With the storms and with winter closing in, this is impossible and Jerry is guilt ridden to have left his dogs. During the harsh, Antarctic winter, the dogs must struggle for survival alone in the intense frozen wilderness for over six months until Jerry and his small team, including cartographer Cooper (Jason Biggs) can try to mount a rescue mission. If Jerry can find the funds. If any of them are still alive.
Review by Louise Keller:
When casting Eight Below, a family friendly adventure about the loyal bond between man and dog, a big challenge no doubt faced by the filmmakers, was to find an actor who could hold his own beside the eight scene stealing huskies. In Paul Walker, they found an actor not only with unselfconscious good looks and the kind of sensitivity for which a girl will fly to the Antarctic, but one who wears integrity like a badge. The film tells an extraordinary story of survival as the stranded dogs battle the elements while the man who loves them confronts his own demons. The dogs are mesmerising and the story satisfies overall, albeit modifying the harrowing tension for its Disney audience.
Inspired by a true story, the icy environment lures us like a huge frozen magnet. The glacial settings are breathtaking, and the tight close ups of the sled dogs allow us to feel as though we can almost touch their dense fur. No subtitles are needed to translate. Their body language says it all, as their expressive, distinctly marked faces communicate - with each other, and with us.
The opening scenes establish the close relationship between the dogs and Walker's survival guide Jerry. The bond they share is tangible and when the dogs are stranded, we are devastated. Back on the mainland, Jerry's hands are tied and he struggles to cope. There's support from his pilot-ex girlfriend Katie (Moon Bloodgood), cartographer Cooper (Jason Biggs, offering light comedic relief) and geologist Davis (Bruce Greenwood), although the characters remain single layered.
The climactic scenes when Jerry returns to the ice in search of his beloved dogs trigger tears and an ocean of emotions. It's an appealing adventure drama with a touch of romance, and its canine stars are awesome. If you don't already have a husky waiting for you at home, you will certainly wish for one.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Inspired by a true story that happened 50 years ago, Eight Below is a combination of adventure and animal drama. Animal lovers, and anyone with a pet, will heave sobs as the story unfolds, but the saving cinematic grace of a film like this is its storytelling skills. Frank Marshall shepherds the story across the thin ice of manipulative Disneyland with a bracing intensity - no doubt developed over decades as a filmmaker of compelling drama.
But the biggest accomplishment of all is keeping these wonderful, loveable sled dogs inhuman; they are dogs. And we love dogs. Not dogs pretending to be human. At the same time, they have feelings and a social structure, and they feel hunger, fear, pain.
Paul Walker is excellent as the survival guide with a soft heart for his dogs, and Jason Biggs is surprisingly entertaining as the loose cannon side kick. Moon Bloodgood is sweet and likeable, while Bruce Greenwood turns in an economical but full characterisation as the geologist.
The story is 'rescue' in which the rescued are animals; for us to invest in this, we have to feel for the dogs, and also relate to the humans. I suspect that No Disney Executives Were Hurt in the production of this picture, but they might have been bruised by a crew that insists on keeping it real. Thank dogness for that.
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THE DOGS THAT DID
FRANK MARSHALL INTERVIEW
EIGHT BELOW (PG)
CAST: Paul Walker, Bruce Greenwood, Jason Biggs, Moon Bloodgood
PRODUCER: David Hoberman, Patrick Crowley
DIRECTOR: Frank Marshall
SCRIPT: David DiGilio (suggested by the film Nankyoku Monogatari)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Don Burgess
EDITOR: Christopher Rouse
MUSIC: Mark Isham
PRODUCTION DESIGN: John Willett
RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: BVI
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 20, 2006