I've done a fair amount of reading about Antarctic exploration, and EIGHT BELOW, which was based on a true story, has been on my radar to see for some time now. I was glad to take advantage of the opportunity to watch it on a big screen, thanks to the new Disney Screen series; it was a gorgeous print.
I shared details about Disney Screen in last weekend's review of OLIVER & COMPANY (1988). There weren't more than a dozen or so people at tonight's screening at the Cinemark Century Huntington Beach so I hope the word will spread! The program is a great idea I'd really like to see continue over the long term.
EIGHT BELOW is a dual survival tale of humans and dogs at a remote Antarctic research station. Jerry (Walker) is a sled dog guide assigned to take a scientist, "Doc" (Bruce Greenwood), out on a mission looking for a meteorite from Mercury. All goes well until a storm moves in and the inexperienced Doc not only breaks his leg, he falls through ice. He's saved thanks to the quick-thinking and resourceful Jerry and the bravery of Jerry's eight sled dogs.
McMurdo Station ensues in order to save Doc's life and Jerry's frostbitten hands. The eight dogs are left chained outside the station, as pilot Katie (Moon Bloodgood) plans to immediately go back to ferry out the dogs.
Unfortunately the biggest storm of 25 years rolls in, cutting off access to get back to the station until winter is over. The guilt-ridden, grief-stricken Jerry tries everything possible to get back to his dogs, even when it seems there would be little hope left for them, but getting to the station is a complete impossibility.
Six months later, as winter ends, Jerry and his colleagues arrange a very challenging trip back to the station via an ice breaking ship, a chopper, and a snowmobile. They know they will probably face a difficult scene, but Jerry needs the closure. He does indeed find the oldest dog buried beneath the snow, but when Jerry pulls on the rest of the dogs' chain, he's shocked to find it empty; the dogs broke free! Did they survive?
The human aspects of the story are also moving, with Jerry's grief and commitment to his dogs gradually changing the somewhat edgy Doc, who owes his life to the dogs but had accepted they could not be saved.
Paul Walker has a winning "everyman" quality in the lead role which is reminiscent of Chris Pine; seeing Walker in this underscores anew what a sad loss his death was in 2013. The supporting cast includes Wendy Crewson, Jason Biggs, Gerard Plunkett, Duncan Fraser, and August Schellenberg.
EIGHT BELOW was directed by Frank Marshall and filmed by Don Burgess. It runs 120 minutes.
Parental Advisory: EIGHT BELOW is rated PG for "peril and brief mild language." Young children might find some of the scenes where the dogs fight for survival upsetting.
EIGHT BELOW was preceded by the cartoon PLUTO'S PARTY (1952). It's Pluto's birthday and all he wants is to eat his cake, but first he has to suffer through a bath...and then his guests threaten to eat all the cake! PLUTO'S PARTY is on DVD as part of the Disney Treasures set Mickey Mouse in Living Color: Volume 2.
EIGHT BELOW is available on DVD, Blu-ray, and via Amazon streaming. The trailer is here.