Eight Below

Frank Marshall

Published Mar 1, 2006

The slow-going Eight Below, based on a 1983 Japanese movie, which was itself based on the real-life experiences of a team of Japanese researchers, has a team of eight gorgeous sled-dogs and expedition leader Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker, a good-looking blank) hauling scientist Dr. Davis MacLaren (Bruce Greenwood in the Sam Neill role) across the icy wastes of Antarctica in search of a chunk of meteorite.

Along the way, the enthusiastic but green doctor falls into various crevasses and is duly rescued by the brave doggies. But when a big storm forces the evacuation of the research station, Jerry is forced to abandon the dogs to their fate.

He returns to America riddled with guilt. The film then concerns itself with how the dogs are getting along, inter-cut with Jerry hopelessly pacing boardrooms and beaches. The dogs fare better than he does: whereas Jerry is a silent loner, the huskies have learned to solve their problems through communication and cooperation. One bark means, "You three go around to the left and hide under that chunk of ice until I say, ‘go!'" Two barks means, "I'll create a diversion while you other three sneak up from behind this hill." Hey, presto: gulls for breakfast.

Disney's need to anthropomorphise dog behaviour is not the problem. It's a Disney dog movie, so that's par for the course. The real problem with Eight Below is that human side of the story is rote, repetitive stuff and there's just not enough husky action. The dogs have their bird-catching scene, their scary CG leopard seal scene and their tragic loss of a brother scene but that's about it. Even when Jerry finally returns to fetch them, they're just kind of hanging around waiting.

The dog adventure movie is a beloved genre for anyone who grew up in the Disney years and it's good to see its return to the Disney slate. But times have changed since those golden Lab-and-sheepdog days — hardened audiences call for tougher breeds. Thus, the husky has recently emerged as the movie dog-du-jour. Alas, huskies mean snow, snow means polar, polar means glacial, and that's bad news for pacing. (Disney/Buena Vista)

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