Wednesday, March 29, 2006

EIGHT BELOW: A Show Gone to the Dogs

Time: 120 mins
Rating: * * * 1/2
The sled-dogs in action
THOSE who watch this movie — about survival in the Antarctica — would definitely be impressed by the acting. They may also be wondering why the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences had not considered giving special Oscars for its stars.

I am referring to the four-legged cast who play sled-dogs Maya, Max, Shadow, Shorty, Dewey, Buck, Truman and Old Jack in this movie that is purportedly based on real events in 1958. The eight dogs are part of the sled team of Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker), a guide for a research and exploration facility in the Antarctic.

When the movie opens, we see Jerry and his sled-dog team taking a geologist, Dr McLaren (Bruce Greenwood), to a remote mountain region. A snowstorm strikes and we get to see the dogs in action — rescuing the scientist and taking the men back safely to base camp. Soon, however, the exploration team must evacuate their station to avoid a fierce winter — and the dogs are left behind, chained to their post.

Jerry, who has promised himself to return to pick up his canine charges, is unable to do anything as no plane is allowed to return due to bad weather. And while Jerry, McLaren and their friends are safe in Oregon in America, the dogs are left to fend for themselves. And the poignant countdown begins. One week... 50 days... 133 days... 155 days....

Yes, while we see Jerry and his helicopter pilot girlfriend Katie (Moon Bloodgood) doing their utmost to set up a rescue mission for the dogs, the best part of the movie is watching how the canines return to their basic animal nature to survive the harsh winter. They seem to understand that they must work as a team to look for food, take care of the injured and search for shelter.

And it is amazing how director Frank Marshall manages to get so much ‘emotion’ from the dozen dogs who play multiple roles in the film. They are not only adorable, they have incredibly expressive faces and mannerisms. Looking into their eyes, you seem able to know what they are thinking as they tangle with birds and sea lions. And our hearts go out to them throughout the movie.

Eight Below is loosely based on the 1983 Japanese blockbuster Nankyoku Monogatari. In this Disney rendition, we have to overlook certain liberties that Marshall has taken in the filming. For example, we see the dogs in bright daylight although the story is set in the Antarctic winter which is about six months of darkness. Also, since 1993 (the year this movie is set in), sled dogs are banned in the Antarctic — to protect the seals from exposure to diseases. Eight Below is a must for dog lovers and those who like a good adventure.


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