Eight Below

Reviewed By Mark Rodger-Snelson
Posted 05/10/06 13:33:55

"Disney makes good with an enjoyable family adventure flick."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Eight Below is by far one of the best family films made in the past year and easily the best live action movie to come out of Disney studios, period.

Paul Walker plays survival guide Jerry Shepard who is assigned to take geologist Davis McLaren (Bruce Greenwood) to a remote area of the Antarctic in search of a meteorite from the planet Mercury. On this expedition, they get news of the mother of all storms heading their way and they narrowly escape a fatal accident, thanks to Shepard’s loyal team of eight skilled sled dogs.

Forced to evacuate, Shepard must leave his beloved dogs behind in the frozen wilds, with a promise they will return. But when the storm arrives quicker than expected, it cancels all means of travel leaving the dogs tied up and stranded.

When it becomes apparent that no one is returning for them, the dogs are forced to fend for themselves and manage to break free of their chains. These intelligent creatures lead by noble pack leader Maya fight against all odds to survive the perilous land through one of the worst winters ever known.

Unable to forget the dogs Jerry makes various attempts to get back to Antarctica to see what became of his trusty team but due to weather and financial issues he is unsuccessful at every turn. He remains determined and finally manages to get a ride on an icebreaker nearly half a year after the dogs were left behind. Even though he knows the likely outcome of his dogs, Jerry decides that he must return for closure but what he finds is well beyond his expectations.

The acting is adequate from all parties for a Disney production with Paul Walker playing much more emotional character than his turn in 2 Fast 2 Furious. Jason Biggs is on hand for the comedic role and does a good job, even though it is hard to get past his American Pie connection. But the true stars of the film are definitely the dogs, they are amazingly well trained and the filmmakers have been very successful in getting emotional performances out of them without the need for digital tweaking.

The cinematography by Don Burgess is nothing short of breathtaking, capturing the harsh yet stunning beauty of this part of the world. Eight Below’s direction by Frank Marshall is also excellent, particularly in the way he balances the parallel human and animal stories without losing any flow.

Disney live action films are usually dripping in so much sweetness that it can turn your stomach. With Eight Below they have taken a risk that has truly paid off. Whilst there are concepts that may be too much for the very young (eg dogs dieing, seagulls being killed for food and a rather scary incident with a leopard seal), kids seven years and up as well as their parents will be glued to the screen.

As far as family films go, Eight Below is going to be hard to beat this year.

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