MPAA Rating: PG/ Genre: Survival Drama/ Stars: Paul Walker, Bruce Greenwood, Moon Bloodgood, Jason Biggs, Gerard Plunkett, August Schellenberg, Wendy Crewson, Belinda Metz, Connor Christopher Levins, Duncan Fraser, Michael David Simms, Malcolm Stewart/ Runtime: 120 minutes
I think it is safe to start this review off by stating something that is both obvious, but that I think you should still be privy to: Out of all the studios capable of pulling it off, only Disney has been able to consistently create and conjure up quite the legacy of top-notch feel-good films for audiences to enjoy for generations. I say that because the film I am reviewing today is proof that the House of Mouse, more widely regarded for an extraordinary legacy in the realm of animated motion pictures, a collection of amazing theme parks located across the planet, extraordinary acquisitions in the form of Marvel and 20th Century Fox, and the occasional tween icon, can still make a film the whole family can enjoy that is very much in the style and vein of such iconic films as Homeward Bound or Where the Red Fern Grows. Indeed 2006’s Eight Below truly is an inspiring yet engaging adventure to say nothing of the fact that is filled to the brim with peril and potent pathos, but also an undying spirit of integrity, persevering, and other values amongst its dog and human casts that, despite being over a decade and some change old at the time of this writing, is one which is still able to be seen as worthy when compared to similar films from a much longer time ago. Indeed although the film does choose to work with some quite mature concepts, has at least one fairly decent jump scare, and has a fair amount of violence, this is still a slice of cinematic pie that is ok for a young audience to sit through. Indeed if nothing else at least they will walk away from this film with a better comprehending of how the bonds of love and friendship are ones which can never be broken and how courage can take the form of, among other things, a creature choosing to fight even when faced with the most desperate odds possible and in the most extreme circumstances imaginable.
The plot is as follows: Eight Below tells the story of a man by the name of Jerry Shepard. Mr. Shepard, we rather quickly learn, is the dedicated leader of an elite sled dog team that is based at a research installation of the National Science Foundation in the cold dreary land that is Antarctica. When our story opens, we see that a UCLA professor of some renown by the name of Davis McClaren is arriving and who is in need of Jerry and his elite team to take him to a spot where the doc feels he can acquire a rare rock that has landed from the planet Mercury. Suffice it to say that, despite the potential perils that this odyssey has going for it, our intrepid hero, the good doc, and Jerry’s dog squad consisting of Max, Maya, Shadow, Dewey, Truman, Old Jack, Buck, and Shorty decide to head out on the risky endeavor. Yet even though the mission is ultimately quite successful, things are made complicated when, on the way back to base, the doctor breaks his leg and nearly succumbs to hypothermia while our intrepid hero suffers from severe frostbitten hands. Yet even though Jerry’s loyal canine unit are able to get them back to the base in one piece, they are tragically left to survive on their own when the humans are evacuated from the base due to a horrific winter storm on the way so they can get Jerry and the doc the medical attention they desperately need. However things get worse when Jerry, upon fully recovering, is not able to get back to retrieve them before the storm thus rendering them lost, lonely, starving, and left to survive on their own devices. Thus as a single day by themselves turns into four, four transforms into 17, 17 becomes 60, and 60 becomes so much more, Jerry’s pack of dogs find themselves engaged in a conflict against nature and the elements at her disposal whilst Jerry, back in America, attempts to plead with not only several government organizations, but also together with Doctor McClaren and the rest of the research team desperately tries to find a way to get back there and save his team before it is too little, too late.
Now the key ingredient that goes quite a ways toward ensuring that Eight Below really is a top-notch movie is the fact that this film has the gift of being quite a few distinct things throughout the entirety of the movie. Indeed I say this because, despite at its core being a good movie for the family with an integrity-laced message and a pure as freshly fallen snow heart to it, the movie also showcases an extraordinary talent to be not only touching and even a hint of soul-crushing at times, but also inspiring and heartfelt with every round of the bend. Yes this is a film that deals with the powers of both love and friendship first and foremost, but this movie is also one that deals with persistence. Persistence not only to keep on living, but to move forward and never abandon the things that mean the world to us even if they have been snatched from with chances slim to none that we can get them back. Yet even when it is at its most bleak and full of despair, the film still manages to showcase a vibe of confidence that even when things seem the most dire, life will truly find a way to help you keep living and hoping as well as keep a promise you so desperately wish to fulfill. To that end, the film chooses to take a look at persistence from a pair of distinct points of view in a pair of distinct environments, and through a pair of distinct sets of conflicts. Indeed the movie manages to seamlessly combine a pair of stories: one involving a group of dogs struggling to survive and their crushed, but never completely broken down owner who keeps trying to find a way to reunite with his beloved dogs even though a lot of time has gone by and the odds are not good that they’re still alive. Indeed the film may seem like it is heading for the typical happy conclusion at the very least it goes that way with an integrity commendable and while there are repercussions, trepidations, and tribulations that attempt to demolish the spirit and heart of the integral players in this story, it is still that success over the longshot odds in a manner that is both heartfelt yet gut punch manner that is what distinguishes this movie and makes it something truly special.
Now on a technical level, this film is just as fantastic as it is on the thematic level. Indeed one particular ingredient that I found myself really appreciating was the way that film helmer Frank Marshall managed to utilize the frigid and desolate landscape and transform it into its own gorgeous yet also perilous character in many respects though given that he managed to also achieve this fairly well in a film from 1993 known as Alive I can’t honestly say I’m that surprised. Yes while this film is most certainly not as dire and relentless as that film was, the fact is that both films have the same helmer does provide quite an amount of both confidence and technical skill that simply aids this film even further from both a visual and pathos point of view. Also worthy of mentioning are the performances given in this by both Paul Walker and Bruce Greenwood. Indeed whilst the old pro that Greenwood is manages to do typically good work with his part, Walker manages to actually showcase that he can be a solid performer when working with the right material. Indeed Walker manages to do terrific at showcasing the potent pathos of what could be seen as that of a anxiety-ridden father trying to keep it all together while looking for his lost kids. Of course, it should come as no surprise to learn that the real stars of a film like this are the animals at the heart of it. Indeed they might not possess the ability to talk nor are they given voice-over a’la Homeward Bound, but rather these dogs are able to showcase a manner of physical and pathos communication that is truly remarkable. Indeed they are able to show when they’re afraid, when they love or support one another, and when they are tending to each other’s injuries or sharing food to such an extent that you will always be able to comprehend just what these animals are thinking and emoting. An ode not only to the animals themselves, but to the people who worked with them to make sure they could do their part in bringing this truly powerful tale this vividly to life.
All in all I am pleased to let you know dear reader that Eight Below is a truly riveting saga of the power of friendship, bravery, and surviving the odds, but most of all of never letting go of those things that are the most important in the whole wide world: loving something or someone more than yourself and life itself. More than that though, Eight Below is a film dealing with peril, heroics, and about bonds so potent and powerful that nothing could ever have a chance in heck at breaking them apart. Indeed as fine of an entry in the genre of movie magic known as the family adventure film, but one that is blessed with that iconic Disney spirit, I feel confident in telling you that Eight Below is a movie that the whole family can cherish even if the film does choose to immerse itself in some more complex ideas that younger viewers may have trouble comprehending. Besides that however, the many positives that this movie has going for it along with the inspiring message, jaw-dropping work in the photography department, and top notch performances from both man and dog in equal measure all find themselves working together to ensure that this film comes away a true winner. On a scale of 1-5 I give Eight Below “06” a solid 3.5 out of 5.