“Eight Below” is a cut way above
For the most part, the world is divided into those who consider themselves dog lovers and those who are cat lovers. Dog fans generally hate cats and cat lovers almost universally merely tolerate dogs. Exhibit “A” for those who say canines are that rare creature capable of demonstrating incredible strength, courage, intelligence and loyalty is Disney’s latest family-friendly feature “Eight Below.”
Cat loyalists may flash their claws in quick defense, but they must admit that we’re not likely to see a film in which a group of felines fends off subzero temperatures, pulls a sled many times its weight, saves the life of a human, heroically obeys every command, and does so for the simple reward of a cheery “atta-boy” fur-noogie.
Yet that’s exactly what the eight gorgeous, lovable stars of “Eight Below” do in a movie inspired by the true stories of dog teams that at one time helped research scientists at the South Pole.
From the beginning “Eight Below” informs us of something we probably didn’t know: That huskies and malamutes sleep in the frigid snow by burying themselves, and that they will eat frozen fish like a killer whale in training. Our eight heroes have names like Maya (the smart leader), Max (with the big blue eyes), and “Old Jack” (the veteran). We quickly grow to love each of them for their individual personalities and spunk, and because they’ll do anything for their skilled guide and caretaker Jerry (Paul Walker).
Against his better judgment, Jerry is asked to take his team out late in the winter to aid a geologist (Bruce Greenwood) in his search for the remnants of a rare meteorite. The dogs help avert a tragedy during the expedition, but upon their return to base camp they must be left behind while the humans are flown out to avoid one of Antarctica’s worst storms ever.
The bulk of the remaining story involves the harrowing adventure of how the dogs try to survive the treacherous winter. Meanwhile Jerry, racked with guilt, attempts to get an expedition together to go back and rescue his silky coated friends.
In an era of frantically-paced kiddie fare meant for the attention-challenged generation, “Eight Below” is a refreshing, mesmerizing story that unfolds with subtlety and patience. Just when Jerry’s quest threatens to bog down the compelling adventure of his abandoned team, a stupendous wake-up call that evokes shrieks of surprise arrives.
Most of the criticism of the film surrounds the allegedly lackluster performance of the film’s humans– notably Walker, Jason Biggs, and newcomer Moon Bloodgood. But Walker (“Into the Blue,” “2 Fast 2 Furious”), in a role where he doesn’t have to play the typical hunky doofus, is quietly efficient. Biggs (“American Pie”) shows he can sling a joke without being vulgar. One of the film’s best moment involves Greenwood, whose son inspires him to rescue the dogs– the real stars of the film.
“Eight Below” is shamelessly sentimental and is designed to appeal to the masses-qualities that used to be bedrocks of Hollywood’s output. Snooty detractors notwithstanding, this nearly perfect family adventure deserves to make a billion dollars.
Just be prepared to rush home to hug your dog.
Rated PG for some peril and brief mild language.