BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Jun 20th, 2006 •

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Walt Disney Pictures

I’m not a Disney kind of guy, never have been, not even in my childhood. I can remember my family taking me to see Disney’s THE BLACK STALLION and wishing we were in the adjoining theater that was showing Kubrick’s THE SHINING. I’ve never been the type to buy the latest animated title before it gets locked away in the Disney vault. What kind of BS is that?

The only real regular relationship me and Disney Pictures have had over the years is that wonderful LITTLE MERMAID clam-shell box that came out when it was first released on video. The box cover artist purposely made one of the towers to the underwater sandcastle look suspiciously like a human organ of the male persuasion. I would go out of my way and bring this valuable trivia information to any customer that entered my video store if I felt they could handle it. There are some people who will say, filthy minds see filthy things, but make no mistake, there’s a phallus on that roof.

I’ve never been a dog lover either. I like dogs, but I’ve never owned one or spent a lot of time around one. I’m a cat person, which has opened me up to a plethora of insults and put- downs from my so-called friends about my masculinity. I travel a lot, and owning a couple of more independently inclined cats just seems to fit my busy schedule.

Having said all of this, I still wanted to see EIGHT BELOW since I first saw the trailers. I love stories of survival, human or not. They always make my day-to-day problems seem pale in comparison; no matter how bad things may seem, they could always be a hell of a lot worse.

EIGHT BELOW was inspired by a real-life Japanese expedition that took place in 1958. The team encountered extreme weather conditions and was forced to abandon their group of sled dogs to fend for themselves. The results from this true story were far more grim than anything Disney could attach their name to. Japan covered that story in the 1983 foreign film NANKYOKU MONOGATARI (translates to ANTARCTICA), one of the highest grossing films in that country for that year. Producer David Hoberman wisely kept pursuing the American remake until he found the right taker.

The film takes place in 1993 (which, we learn on the director’s commentary, was the last year dogs were allowed on the entire continent of Antarctica. The canine ban was due to the exposure of distemper to that land’s seal population) and just like the real story, survival guide and sled dog expert Jerry Shepherd (Paul Walker), cartographer Charlie Cooper (Jason Biggs), pilot Katie (Moon Bloodgood) and geologist Dr. Davis McClaren (Bruce Greenwood, who reminds me of Sam Neil) are left without any other choice except leaving their sled dog team alone at their camp because of emergency medical situations. They intend to return for the dogs after two members of the group have visited doctors. While at the military base, the Antarctican storm of the century blows in, and absolutely zero planes are allowed to fly to back to the frozen continent until spring or summer rolls around. Maya, Max, Shadow, Shorty, Old Jack, Buck and the twins, Dewey and Truman are on their own in the most extreme of winter conditions. The dates that pass and the total days the dogs spend on their own are imposed on the screen. Every time we are shown these staggering numbers, we get the feeling of urgency and suspense, just from reading them.

The actors in the film are passable, but this film is all about the dogs, each one serving a different personality and working dissimilar jobs in the pack to help the group survive. The dogs are beautiful, you’ll have to admit, with their thick winter coats and vibrant blue eyes. The main stars of the pack are Maya, the female leader, and Max, the new pup who must, like it or not, step-up and become the new leader following a catastrophe.

Director Frank Marshall, who is no stranger to survival in winter conditions, having directed ALIVE, keeps the dogs’ fate at a high level of suspense. He moves the story at a fast, yet comfortable pace. I must mention the crowd-pleasing and exciting chase scene between pup Max and an animatronic adult leopard seal, provided by Stan Winston’s always-brilliant effects company. These seals are not of the cute and cuddly type. The beast that Stan Winston came up with and the way Marshall plays it, made it come across like a creature out of the original STAR WARS trilogy. The scene involves Max haulin’ some canine ass above the ice while the camera films the seal plotting impending doom to the pooch, swimming professionally in the water and following the shadows of the four paws running on the clear, glistening frozen water.

The cinematography by Robert Zemeckis regular Don Burgess was all of an expert nature. He takes full advantage of the wide screen, filling the frame with eye-catching icy locations to accompany the gripping drama/action that moves the plot.

The supplementary material included on the DVD is not the most exciting I’ve ever seen, however, the commentaries are well worth your time and very informative. Highlights include info on Antarctica, cinematographer Burgess’ comments on filming in excruciatingly cold environments and the rituals you must follow for the cameras and film in such conditions. Also, stories of real canine survival; some of the animal actors were saved from shelters for the film, thus providing them with a full and better life and perhaps saving them from euthanasia, including one dog from my home state of Tennessee. I was also informed that most of the dogs came from the sunny state of Florida and had never experienced the feeling of their bare paws in the snow.

The great countries of Greenland and Canada doubled wonderfully for Antarctica. I’m going to have to remain neutral on this title. I enjoyed it a lot, but I won’t strongly recommend it. Do I think you would enjoy watching EIGHT BELOW? If you are a dog-hating complete bastard, stay away from this movie. Half-a-bastard or less? By all means, check out this family-friendly action/drama from Walt Disney Pictures.

Directed by: Frank Marshall
Produced by: David Hoberman, Patrick Crowley and Doug Davison
Screenplay by: David DiGilio
Cinematography by: Don Burgess
Film Editing by: Christopher Rouse
Live Action Animatronics Effects by: Stan Winston Studio
Running Time: 120 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Special Features: Commentary with Director Frank Marshall, Producer Crowley, star Walker, D.P. Burgess
Running With The Dogs: The Making of Eight Below
Deleted Scenes with Commentary by the Director

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