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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Eight Below (review)

A Big Mush

First thing I thought was, “Dawg, dawg, working dawg, I’m a haaaard workin’ dawg” — remember that Sesame Street bit? Cuz here’s a flick about sled dogs, strong, dedicated creatures who love their jobs so much, as their human owner and team leader notes here, that they’ll run themselves to death if he doesn’t keep an eye on them. How many people love their jobs that much?
And then, like it somehow hadn’t sunk in until that very moment, I suddenly realized, 20 minutes or so in Eight Below, that this is a dog movie, and suddenly remembered, like I could have somehow forgotten, that I’m a big mush when it comes to dogs and dog movies, and I was totally unprepared, hankie-wise, for the pleasant sobfest I knew I was about to indulge in. And when it begun to become clear what story Eight Below was going to unfold before me? That was when I really began to regret not bringing an entire box of Kleenex with me.

If I’d thought about the movie at all before I stepped in to the screening, I guess I imagined Paul Walker and his sled dogs would go out onto the Antarctic ice and get caught in a storm and have a Fight For Survival(TM) and certainly Paul Walker would learn The Meaning Of Life(TM) as a result of the experience and maybe the dogs might even talk and have lots of wiseass commentary on the stupidity of their person — this is Disney, after all, and of late this is what we’ve come to expect: I mean, Snow Dogs, right? And sure enough, Walker’s (Into the Blue, Noel) Jerry Shepherd, an expedition guide at a small South Pole science station, and his dogs, and his client, geologist Davis McLaren (Bruce Greenwood: The World’s Fastest Indian, Capote), get caught out in remotest South Pole-land when a major storm comes in and have a dangerous flight across the treacherous ice to safety, etcetera, etcetera.

But then they get back to their base way too quickly, and there’s way more than an hour left to go in the film, and the dogs haven’t even done anything especially Disney-rific yet (though there is one amazing bit where Maya, the lead dog, rescues McLaren from a precarious situation, and that’s pretty cool and amazing and even though it’s in a movie you know that dogs really probably do stuff like that). And I’m thinking, Where the hell is the movie gonna go from here?

Well, dog lovers, I’m totally serious when I say: Bring lots of hankies. The team at the base must evacuate before the biggest storm, like, ever, hits, and then it’ll be winter and no one will be coming back till the next expedition season the following summer, and there’s no room on the plane for the dogs. I gotta tell ya, I kinda never imagined I’d be saying this, but Paul Walker’s performance made me cry, though mostly cuz I was as horrified as his Jerry is at the prospect of abandoning these beautiful, magnificent, smart, wonderful animals to the elements of a freakin’ Antarctic winter.

Oh, man, did I start bawling — bawling, I tell ya — when Jerry was saying good-bye to the dogs. And kept on bawling and bawling as the hounds realize they’ve gotta fend for themselves and set off across remotest Antarctica in search of food and shelter and Jerry, presumably, and oh the betrayal the dogs must feel, as much as their little doggie brains can, and I just can’t bear it and I’m sure they can hear me all the way in the back of the theater and all the normal people are thinking What the heck is wrong with that girl? Jerry can’t bear it either, and he spends the rest of the film trying to get back to Antarctica, and it’s not like you can just hop on the next Antarctic Air flight to way Down Under. So we cut back and forth between Jerry and his doggie-loving torments and the dogs themselves — and it’s even worse cuz this is based on a true story that happened in like 1957 (and also on an 80s Japanese film Nankyoku Monogatari, which was also based on that real incident). I don’t mind leaving the cats for a weekend, but I’m not even gonna tell you how long these raised-by-humans-and-used-to-MilkBone dogs were alone without so much as a bowl of kibble.

Don’t think Snow Dogs — think the classic Disney animal films. Think new Disney classic. But definitely think Kleenex.


MPAA: rated PG for some peril and brief mild language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
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