Must Love Dogs

 

Eight Below (2006) Review 5
Director:Frank Marshall,
Starring:Paul Walker, Jason Biggs, and Bruce Greenwood
Length:120 minutes
Rated:PG

 

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but where Hollywood movies are concerned, sometimes those old tricks are still pretty darn impressive.

Case in point is “Eight Below,” a formulaic Disney adventure about friendship, loyalty and survival that’s about as good as it gets when it comes to rousing cinematic entertainment for the whole family. Loosely based on a true story from 1957, which itself became the basis for the 1983 Japanese blockbuster “Nankyoku Monogatari,” “Eight Below” is an exciting, inspiring and emotionally satisfying Antarctic adventure that will warm your heart.

Best known as the heartthrob from 2001’s “The Fast and the Furious” and its sequel, 2003’s “2 Fast 2 Furious,” Paul Walker trades fast cars for furry friends to play Jerry Shepard, a rugged survival expert at the U.S. National Science Research Base in Antarctica. With winter fast approaching, Shepard and his eight loyal sled dogs have just enough time to squeeze in one last expedition – to guide a determined scientist (Bruce Greenwood) to a remote site that could contain ancient meteorites from the planet Mercury.

But their mission is cut short after a freak accident forces an immediate evacuation, and the dogs must stay behind when there’s no room left for them on the only plane out. Shepard promises to return, but when fierce winter weather cuts off the only route back, the dogs are forced to fend for themselves against hungry predators, harsh elements and, worst of all, starvation. Shepard is heartbroken, but he will stop at nothing to mount a daring rescue mission back to Antarctica in an effort to save the best friends he ever had.

Considering the incredible success of last year’s phenomenal documentary “March of the Penguins,” the timing couldn’t be better for an ice-bound family adventure like “Eight Below.” Director Frank Marshall – who produced big hits like the “Indiana Jones” movies before stepping behind the camera for 1990’s “Arachnophobia,” 1993’s “Alive” and 1995’s “Congo” – effectively utilizes both the amazing beauty and the impending threat of his snow-covered vistas (with Canada, Norway and Greenland filling in for Antarctica).

But he also sets a steady pace for writer David DiGilio’s engaging screenplay that makes the dogs’ six-month struggle for survival even more suspenseful than Shepard’s mission to return for their rescue. Periodic titles reveal how much time has passed since the dogs have been on their own, which makes their increasingly resourceful methods to stay alive even more fascinating and spectacular. To that extent, the film would have been downright unbelievable had it not been based on a true story (which, understandably, takes certain factual liberties for the sake of dramatic license).

The dogs may have their own distinct personalities, but their human co-stars are also engaging. Paul Walker is effective as the team leader with an undeniable bond to his canine companions, while “American Pie” star Jason Biggs provides some much-needed comic relief as his nerdy sidekick. But while Walker’s romance with the beautiful bush pilot played by Moon Bloodgood feels a bit too contrived (and, as a result, not entirely necessary), Bruce Greenwood is strong as the scientist who eventually becomes the dogs’ only hope for survival.

Compared to most of the movies out right now, “Eight Below” really does have it all – thrilling adventure, a moving story, incredible scenery and eight furry newcomers that will steal your heart. They may not have any new tricks up their sleeve, but that’s okay – these are eight tricks about survival, love and friendship that I can’t wait to see again.