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March 29, 2006

Eight Below


Canine Stamina
Antarctic Adventure Lets The Dogs Out
By Cole Smithey

Eightbelowposter Esteemed director/producer Frank Marshall (director on "Alive," producer on "Raiders Of The Lost Ark") successfully retools a story suggested by the Japanese movie "Nankyoku Monogatari" ("Antarctica"). At a bottom-of-the-world U.S. National Science Research Base in Antarctica, resident guide Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker) cares for his prized team of 8 sled dogs—6 Huskies and 2 Malamutes. The dogs’ remarkable acting abilities admirably serve the bulk of the movie after a severe blizzard sends Jerry and his research team comrades on an evacuation that necessarily leaves the dogs behind to fend for themselves.

Jerry and his best-loved dogs get a chance to prove their worth when Jerry’s old flame Katie (Moon Bloodgood) flies in scientist Davis McClaren (Bruce Greenwood) who hopes to discover pieces of a meteorite from Mercury that recently crashed into Antarctica. Heartstrings are played. Against his better instincts, Jerry lashes up the lovable dogs to their sled and takes the eager scientist on a dangerous trek that nearly costs McClaren his life if it weren’t for the dogs and Jerry. An encroaching storm chases the team back to the research base where McClaren’s hypothermia and Jerry’s severe frostbite are made more urgent by an even bigger approaching storm.

The immediate need to evacuate the base leaves no room on their small airplane for the dogs to accompany the research team. Katie’s promise, to make a return run to retrieve the dogs, is dashed after the giant storm claims the area for the long ensuing winter season. Heartbroken at the prospect of losing his dogs, Jerry goes on a personal mission to arrange a return to the base to collect his animal pals that were left chained together in the snow. The movie shifts to a dog survival story as the quick-witted canines break from their chains and roam the barren Antarctic landscape in search of food.

The dogs quickly adapt their teamwork skills to catch birds and to chase a threatening leopard seal from a giant whale carcass in the film’s most shocking moment of surprise. The story toggles between Jerry’s stubborn attempts at getting back to Antarctica and the survival tactics of the intelligent dogs whose unsure fate will necessarily take a toll. Days, week’s and months pass before Jerry and his caring human compatriots are able to return to discover the questionable condition of the dogs.

The glacial atmosphere of the movie suits Paul Walker’s signature dry performance style that falls somewhere between Keanu Reeves and a young Jan Michael Vincent. Jason Biggs adds some subtle comic color as the romantically inclined cartographer Charlie Cooper. However, it’s the dogs that give the most inspired performances in an unconventional action movie that revels in animal instincts tested by the cruelest conditions Mother Nature has to offer. It’s doubtful that eight human beings could sustain themselves for so long with so little under these conditions.

Rated PG. 120 mins. (B-) (Three Stars)



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