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EIGHT BELOW

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Paul Walker, Bruce Greenwood, Moon Bloodgood, Jason Biggs
Director: Frank Marshall
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Disney
Features: See Review
Length: 120 Minutes
Release Date: June 20, 2006

“You got to take chances for the things you care about.”

Film ***

Eight Below is easily worthy of being ranked with the great Disney adventures of yesteryear. It instantly reminded of the sheer joy I experienced when first watching White Fang back in 1991. That makes sense the story, although inspired by a true one, has the feel and tension of a Jack London adventure played to the tune of contemporary times.

And director Frank Marshall is certainly a filmmaker up to the task of bringing such an adventure to the big screen. Marshall was a longtime producing collaborator with Steven Spielberg on various projects as The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun and each of the Indiana Jones movies. How strange though that one of Marshall’s directorial efforts prior to this family friendly snowbound tale was the 1993 film Alive, which told a true life snow bound tale of an entirely different sort.

The story opens in on a weather station in Antarctica.  The resident survival expert at the station is Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker), who specializes in leading scientists on expeditions with the help of his eight loyal huskies. His assistants at the station are Cooper (Jason Biggs), a cartographer, and pilot Kate (Moon Bloodgood).

Jerry’s latest assignment has him leading renowned UCLA professor Davis McClaren (Bruce Greenwood) an a quest to locate a rare meteorite. So Jerry then assembles his team of eight; Maya, Dewey, Shorty, Truman, Max, Shadow, Buck and Old Jack. And then what starts as a normal expedition begins.

But along the way, momentary disaster strikes. The professor accidentally steps outside the safety zone and falls under ice. Much to the professor’s surprise, and ours, the dogs leap cautiously and calmly to the rescue. We now realize how highly trained these normal looking sled dogs really are.

And while that serves as an intense moment of the film, it’s nothing compared to what’s about to come. Jerry and his team receive word that the snow storm of the century is about to thrust itself on their very work location. They are left with no choice but to evacuate and leave the precious dogs behind. The storm is simply way too fierce for any human to survive.

The rest of the film shows two coinciding perspectives; the human characters as they adjust to new assignments away from Antarctica and the dogs as they face sheer bitterness in the cold as they attempt to survive the impossible. Jerry spends six months trying to find the resources to return and rescue the dogs. While the folks he has to go to are sympathetic there is not enough money and the weather is still too bad and no expeditions are planned until the following year.

And while I don’t want to spoil the details of what the dogs go through, let me just say they go through a hell of a lot. There’s a scene where they have to find a way to steal away some food that is one of the more intense moments I’ve seen lately. When you see the movie, you’ll see why.

Eventually, Jerry and his team, as well as Professor McClaren make a crucial decision to go back to Antarctica to find and rescue the loyal huskies. McClaren feels that he simply owes them that much since the dogs saved his life in the first place. Will the dogs be rescued in time? You’ll have to see the movie to find out for yourself.

Eight Below is top notch adventure entertainment that is without question the best family oriented film I’ve seen in a while. It’s strange watching Paul Walker in his routine nice mode after seeing him as intense as ever in Running Scared, but he manages to come across quite well as the leading hero here, though the attention is focused more on the dogs than the humans.

It’s a rousing adventure that the entire family is sure to enjoy at a marvelous length. Do have the Kleenex handy for a few scenes…fair warning!

Video ****

This is quite simply a glorious and fantastic anamorphic transfer courtesy of Disney. It’s certainly the best form I’ve ever seen the Antarctic landscape in (though I have yet to see March of the Penguins). The image quality is crisp and clear from beginning to end. Colors are quite spectacular, in addition.

Audio ****

Same marks for the amazing 5.1 mix. The stunning sound quality on this release wonderfully conveys the intense power of the adventure film better than any recent release. Music playback and sequences of peril make for some incredible sounding moments. Dialogue delivery is as clearly heard as it gets. Outstanding in every sense!

Features ***

A good enough lineup of extras on this release, starting with two audio commentary tracks; the first with director Frank Marshall and producer Pat Crowley, the second with Marshall, Paul Walker and director of photography Don Burgess. Also included are Deleted Scenes with commentary by Marshall and a featurette titled, “Running With The Dogs: The Making of Eight Below”.

Summary:

Eight Below serves the finest ingredients of a terrific Disney adventure movie. If you’ve missed this kind of movie, and are in search of superb family entertainment, look absolutely no further than this.

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