Polar adventure

This Frank Marshall-directed movie is excellent and forms a right blend of information and adventure, writes Ervell E. Menezes

Bruce Greenwood and Paul Walker in Eight Below
Bruce Greenwood and Paul Walker in Eight Below

WHAT is it like to experience the bitter cold in the polar regions? Treading on thin ice is no cakewalk. Almost the opposite. One can drown in it. So when an intrepid team of explorers and scientists goes to the Antarctica, there is enough scope for such adventure. But Eight Below is also about man’s best friend, the dog, and how the pack of sledge dogs brave the coldest, windiest winter waiting for help to arrive.

There aren’t many films set in the polar regions. May be it’s too much trouble shooting there. Ice Station Zebra, based on an Alistair MacLean novel, and The Wild North (Stewart Granger and Wendell Correy), a Canadian Mounties film of the 1950s come readily to mind. So Eight Below is a welcome change of setting. Based on a real-life story from the mid-1950s it was also the basis of the Japanese blockbuster Nankyoku Monogatri. This Frank Marshall directed movie is excellent and does to the polar region what African Safari did to the Dark Continent with the canine element getting equal if not greater attention.

Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker) is the survival guide who saves geologist Davies (Bruce Greenwood) on one of these missions. But the advent of a killer storm forces the team to temporarily abandon the pack of eight dogs. Cartographer Cooper (Jason Biggs) and bush pilot Katie (Moon Bloodgood) are the other members of the team. What was meant to be temporary sadly becomes extended because of the severity of the winter. How these dogs brave nearly six months out in freezing cold is what the film is all about.

David DiGilio who is able to get the ambience right very well scripts the docu-drama. He also forms a right blend of information and adventure, which director Marshall further consolidates. The outdoors is fetchingly shot by cinematographer Don Burgess and there is also a bit of romance for dramatic relief. But it is the never-say-die attitude of the hero that gives the film so much meat.

May be the 130-minute film could have been cut by at least 20 minutes but even so it is at no time even dull. This is because it covers new ground. Paul Walker too deserves a good deal of credit because he imbues the character with total conviction. Bruce Greenwood and Jason Biggs lend adequate support and comely Moon Bloodgood is easy on the eye. The dogs play no mean part in this enjoyable, heart-warming drama. An absolute must for dog lovers.


Sumptuous entertainer

Director Mark Waters steers clear of razzle-dazzle special effects and there’s enough of humour

Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo in Just Like Heaven
Reese Witherspoon and Mark Ruffalo in Just Like Heaven

Remember Heaven Can Wait, that late-1970s story with Warren Beatty in the lead role as a football star who goes to heaven after a car accident? In Just Like Heaven we have a very competent doctor Elizabeth (Reese Witherspoon) taking the same route. May be that’s why they have Heaven in the title and both films use the Golden Gate Bridge to denote the Pearly Gates.

But when Elizabeth, in her ethereal form, goes to her old apartment she’s surprised to see it occupied by a young man David (Mark Ruffalo) who insists that she is in fact intruding. And hence their picture-long battle over ownership. In the process of course, Cupid has ample time to shoot his arrow. But the most elevating part of it is that scriptwriters Peter Tolan and Leslie Dixon weave a neat little story by adding some amusing incidents (to the original, Freaky Friday by Mark Levy) to turn out a sumptuous entertainer.

Really it is the strength of two very talented actors that helps. Reese Witherspoon sails through the part most convincingly and Mark Ruffalo’s confusion takes long time wearing off. They are so believable in this unbelievable situation that they manage to take the audience with them. Director Mark Waters moves along more than one front to keep the fare racy and yet devote enough time to important details. The technique probably first used in Invisible Man of making someone invisible or able to walk through walls is so much easier these days with modern technology, yet director Waters steers clear of these razzle-dazzle special effects. It is the narrative that is strong and there’s enough of humour to tide over what could have been dull moments. Like the incident in which David, through directions from Dr Elizabeth, saves the life of a man who suffers a heart attack.

Oh yes, Elizabeth is in a coma and her sister Abby (Dina Waters) is about to pull out the life support, that’s the climax. But by then the whole picture has changed and the scriptwriters conjure a credible ending. So all’s well that ends very well. In fact whatever doubts one has in the beginning about the durability of the entertainer are instantly demolished and in the light of Hollywood’s current lean days Just Like Heaven is able to hold its head high. — E. E. M