Release Date:  February 17, 2006
Rating: PG for peril and brief, mild language
Genre:  Drama, adventure
Run Time:  120 min.
Director:  Frank Marshall
Actors:  Paul Walker, Bruce Greenwood, Jason Biggs, Panou, Moon Bloodgood, Brenda Campbell, Wendy Crewson, and Connor Christopher Levins

Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker) is a dogsled guide in Antarctica, where his current mission is leading a good-natured geologist, Doctor McClaren (Bruce Greenwood), “Doc,” to Mount Melbourne for some research.  Winter is fast approaching, and storms in the region are on the increase, but Doc wants to risk the journey, as he really has to get a particular missing rock formation that could be a rare meteorite from another planet.

Jerry is a low-risk guy, however, and a stickler for following the rules. He knows that any diversion off the tried and true path could be fatal.  Sure enough, there are some scary mishaps on the ice, and the trusted team of dogs – along with Jerry’s flawless training and coaching – must rescue Doc from certain death. Doc breaks his leg and goes into near-hypothermia just when the team back at Base Camp gets word that an approaching storm is bigger and much worse than predicted.  The Base Camp boss issues an order for the entire base to be evacuated immediately, and he has Jerry’s ex-girlfriend, Katie (Moon Bloodgood) relay the mandate to Jerry and Doc by radio.  But with his own cough getting worse and his fingers growing numb, Jerry isn’t certain he can even make it back to the base.

When he finally does, the team realizes that both men need immediate medical attention and must be airlifted off the base.  Problem is, there won't be room in the small plane for Jerry's dogs.  Katie assures Jerry that they'll make a trip back in three hours, but as the storm swells to "storm of the century" proportions, it is soon clear to all that the dogs are on their own.  Jerry becomes increasingly alarmed as he finally realizes that the dogs may have to be abandoned all winter long. He knows their chances of survival are slim to none – especially since they are chained up with tight collars on.

As Jerry returns to America to find funding to make a dubious winter journey back to Antarctica to retrieve the dogs, the dogs are having quite the harrowing adventure on their own.  First, most of them find a way to wrench themselves out of their collars, meander around the Arctic plains, learn to hunt, and find adequate shelter.

The dogs do face some truly scary moments, such as a fight with a leopard seal for the meat of a frozen whale and a dangerous fall from a mountain ridge when the Southern Lights spook one of the dogs.  However, the trouble is that the dogs are given human qualities – and way too much of the screen time (almost an hour).

Audiences are asked to believe that, in a survival situation, dogs would not only work as a team, but they would sacrifice their own meals and offer them to the sick among them. If this were a reality documentary, I’m afraid we might see these dogs act in pure self-interest and even begin devouring one another in a starvation situation. But that’s not what kids want to see now, is it?

In addition, the movie is very safe and predictable.  My 16-year-old daughter whispered in my ear what would happen next, and in every case, it did.

Predictability and willing suspension of disbelief are forgivable, however, if there is an element of overriding tenderness.  In the case of “Eight Below,” there certainly is. A sweet love story and charming comic relief draw the audience to forgive the corny predictability and drawn out sequences of dogs acting like selfless humans.

One thing that everyone will agree on is that “Eight Below” masterfully portrays the concept of K…K…K… Cold!  We saw people pulling their own coats and sweaters around themselves during the movie as scene after scene of frozen, icy, Arctic wastelands and blinding blizzards sent shivers down their spines.

Overall, the movie is good, clean, family-friendly Disney fare that moviegoers generally like to support.  And if you do go, please bring a jacket!

AUDIENCE:  Children and adults

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Beer and liquor depicted at a hotel conference.
  • Language/Profanity:  About two to three light obscenities.
  • Sex/Nudity:  None.
  • Violence/Crime:  Nature-related violence, as in a fight between dogs and seals and in the accidents and perils (falls, near-drownings) resulting from drastic Arctic conditions.