Eight Below (2006)

Rated PG. Our ratings: V-3 ; L-1 ; S/N-1 . Running time: 2 hours

Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you;
bind them round your neck,
write them on the tablet of your heart.
So you will find favour and good repute
in the sight of God and of people.
Proverbs 3:3-4

Eight Below

If you are looking for an enjoyable family film, look no farther. This is an exciting Disney film “suggested” by the popular Japanese film Nankyoku Monogatari, which in turn was based on a true event in 1957, The American version is bumped up to 1983, the last year in which sled teams were used in Antarctica. Yes, the film is set in that forbidding region where the temperature drops far lower than 8 Below. I believe that the title actually refers to the eight sled dogs which the human characters see from the plane that is evacuating them from their post because of a huge on-coming storm—but we are getting ahead of the story.

Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker) is the guide and dog handler for an expedition of scientists. Dr. Davis McClaren (Bruce Greenwood) has come to Antarctica in search of an important meteorite fragment, but when he tells Jerry that they are to travel in the opposite direction of what he had wired them, the guide balks because the ice could be too thin at their new destination. Explaining that he had sent the wrong directions for reasons of secrecy, the scientist pushes his case. Jerry’s superior gives the okay, and so Jerry reluctantly yields. He introduces Davis to the dogs —Maya, Jack, Shorty, Buck, Shadow, Max, Dewey, and Truman—explaining what sets each of them apart as an individual. Soon they are off on their dangerous trek to a mountain near which the meteor had fallen. They do find it and a large chunk of the meteorite, but on the way back Davis falls from a cliff and, in a dangerous and suspenseful rescue by the dogs, is taken back through a storm to their base. His broken leg is set, but neither he nor the others have long to rest because the crew learns that the current storm is merely the forerunner of a far bigger and more dangerous one bearing down on them. The must evacuate the base immediately.

The problem is, Katie (Moon Bloodgood) the pilot for the group, tells them that the plane will be at capacity just with the humans. Thus the dogs must be left behind. Jerry is extremely upset over this, but facts being facts, he and the crew strap the dogs to a line. He looks into each of their trusting faces and promises that he will return soon for them. This proves to be a promise he cannot keep. The storm lasts too long, winter descends, and no one can return to the frozen continent. The camera switches back and forth between the dogs at the camp and the humans up north, with a countdown given each time of how long the dogs are on their own. Maya, the leader, manages to break free, and then the others, except for poor Jack, the oldest dog that Jerry was about to retire. What follows is a series of incredible adventures that finds the dogs struggling to find food, once from a shed that they break into, other times by catching some birds, and, in a most suspenseful scene, when Maya comes upon a dead whale guarded by a powerful sea lion anxious to kill anything that encroaches upon its kill. Back in the U.S. Jerry tries to move heaven and earth to find a way to get back to the base, but no one or agency is able or willing to do so, until—

Director Frank Marshall and screenwriter David DiGilio, for the most part, effectively restrain from making the dogs cute or human, though we might question the dogs’ sharing the birds with one of their injured mates, and figuring out a plan or two. The close up of their wonderful faces seem to give us an entrance into their dog minds—these are dogs that will really get to you, so that we can well accept Jerry’s great love for them and share his sense of guilt at abandoning them. If the flock of penguins in March of the Penguins touched your heart, wait until you see and live with these dogs for two hours!