Toon Talk: Eight Below
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by Kirby C. Holt
MPAA Rating: PG
The Fast and the Furriest
The time was 1957, the place: Antarctica. A team of sled dogs is left behind in the unforgiving landscape to face the fierce winter alone, prompting their loyal guide and master to do whatever it takes to go back and rescue them.
Such was the real-life story that inspired the 1983 Japanese blockbuster Nankyoku Monogatari (Antarctica), a film that became one of the most successful in that country's history, thus spawning interest in the inevitable Americanized remake, Eight Below, now in theaters.
As is often the case in cross-cultural adaptations, screenwriter David DiGilio has softened the action (and reset it in 1993), Disneyfying it enough to make it family friendly fare and upping the "overcoming all oddsâ€? theme to required inspirational levels. However, in excising the story's more harrowing - and realistic - aspects, DiGilio, along with Spielbergian producer-turned-director Frank Marshall (who also directed the similarly set Alive) have turned this true life adventure into a rather trite and predictable "man conquerors natureâ€? yarn.
Paul Walker, who usually acts with his abs in such B-movies as The Fast and the Furious and Into the Blue, is bundled up here in snow parkas and mittens for his role as Jerry Shepard, an intrepid Antarctic guide and "musherâ€? who treats his team of eight crystal-eyed huskies as his "kidsâ€?. The plot is set in motion with the arrival of scientist Davis "Docâ€? McLaren (Bruce Greenwood, currently of the Oscar-nominated Capote), who's search for a mysterious meteorite (from the planet Mercury, no less) leads Jerry's kids on one last trek into the ice fields. When an approaching storm threatens, the team must return to camp, but not before Doc finds his rock - and then promptly falls off a cliff into a frozen lake. The dogs rescue the men folk, and then get them home in time to be evacuated. With the intention of returning for them as soon as possible, the dogs are left chained up at the outpost, but weather conditions worsen, forcing their rescue to be called off.
The dogs, abandoned, are able to break free and manage to survive on their own natural instincts, catching wayward gulls for food and avoiding the jaws of a gigantic (animatronic/CGI) leopard seal. Meanwhile, back in civilization, Jerry is consumed by guilt for leaving his teammates behind, and struggles to find funding to return for them, as the clock is ticking down on their chances of survival (literally: an on-screen caption periodically appears to countdown the number of days the dogs are "on their ownâ€?).