Monday, 20 November 2006

Eight Below (2006)

This review was originally posted on Ian's Personal Blog on 2nd September 2006.

Eight BelowReviews of Eight Below have been somewhat mixed, although the critics' reviews at and the public's reviews over at appear to be roughly in line, until you realise that the 'Cream of the Crop' critics reviews drop the average grade to 53% and that a lot of Husky dog owners appear to have been swaying the vote over at imdb.

The truth is that this is almost a remake of The Incredible Journey, albeit with a pack of Husky dogs this time round. It's a classic, old-fashioned Disney movie, with all the baggage which that implies.

One of the problems with a movie like this is that it's hard to get animals to 'act', but with those puppy-dog eyes, that furry tummy and 'come hug me' face, how could one resist? But enough about Paul Walker - the film thankfully features cute Husky dogs too!

Actually, I'm being mean to Walker, who isn't as bad an actor as so many working in the critical media would have you believe - he just seems to have lousy judgment when it comes to choosing the projects to become involved with. His last film, Running Scared, showed that he could successfully take on a gritty lead role, but alas here in Eight Below he's mainly back to playing his usual role: the male equivalent of 'dumb blonde bimbo' with not much acting required, and it's the dogs who are the true stars, despite adequate supporting performances from American Pie's Jason Biggs in the role of 'comedy' friend, and Moon Bloodgood playing the obligatory female love interest.

Walker is survival guide Jerry, who finds himself having to leave behind his beloved working Husky dogs when a storm at the end of the Summer season arrives. The first 40 minutes of the film show the life Jerry has built, with some rather artificial 'action' scenes designed to show the bond that has developed between him and his dogs, with the remainder of the 115 minute movie being dedicated to showing how the dogs survive while their handler tries desperately to find a way back to the Antarctic to rescue them before the long, hard Winter really sets in.

The story is a heart-warming one, albeit featuring the biggest, cheesiest, most sentimental 'cheat' cop-out ending I've ever seen, and is targeted very much at the family audience. It's refreshing to see a film with no cuss words in it that still has some sense of reality to it (at least if you forget the saccharine ending and the way the film-makers cheat the viewer into believing one thing whilst quite clearly planning another), but there are scenes that shouldn't be considered suitable for young or sensitive children. Let's just say that not all the dogs make it to the end of the movie, and there are scenes where the dogs have to fight for survival that will make for uncomfortable viewing.

The cinematography is stunning, despite the fact that the film wasn't shot in Antarctica, but for the most part in northern Canada. A couple of scenes (particularly those on the boat) unfortunately stick out as being studio shots, but these are minor aberrations and the helicopter shots in particular are breath-taking.

Eight Below screencap

It's becoming increasingly common these days for the advertised extra's on a disk's packaging to be incorrect (where are the Advertising Standards Authority when you need them?), but at least this time round the extra's exceed what is promised on the packaging. The 'trailer' is NOT on the disk, despite what the packaging may say, but two feature-length commentaries, which aren't mentioned, are. The first features the director and producer, while the second (the only one I listened to) whilst advertised on the menu as featuring the director and lead actor talking through the shoot, only feature Walker for 20 minutes before the cinematographer takes over. The director/actor section is an interesting listen with the director being worthy-but- dull and Walker balancing things out by being over-enthusiastic and naive. There are also several deleted scenes (I didn't count them all but there are certainly more than the 'three' that are advertised on the packaging), each with accompanying director's commentary. Unfortunately the 'Making of' featurette clocks in at a pitiful 10 minutes, and is mainly focused on how the dogs were trained and how Canada was substituted for Antarctica.

The DVD transfer is excellent, and this is certainly worth a rental, but unless you're a big Husky dog fan or have kids who love seeing films over and over again this isn't really a 'must buy' purchase.

Eight Below screencap

The picture quality is fine, given the low budget nature of the film, and the inclusion of a DTS sound track as well as the usual Dolby Digital one seems somewhat over-the-top given the material. It's nice to see a booklet with film notes and chapter index included, but other than that the only extra is a commentary from the director and his director of photography, and it's a pretty dull affair. If you want something that doesn't spoon-feed you and assumes it's being watched by an intelligent audience, this is definitely worth a rental, but it's hard to see it being the sort of film you'd particularly want to watch again.

P.S. screencap

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