The Barenaked Archives – Eight Below

From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies.

The Barenaked Archives are reviews that I did for two previous websites. Sadly, they are both gone, so this is now the only place online you can see these old columns.

Eight Below posterHollywood Is Going to the Dogs

Everybody likes movies that are about a triumph of will, of survival against impossible odds. When those surviving against the impossible odds happen to be eight beautiful sled dogs, well, get ready to have your heartstrings played like a fiddle. I sense a lot of kids will be begging for Siberian huskies after watching this movie.

This weekend we have Disney remaking their movie Snow Dogs…er, I mean remaking the Japanese movie Nankyoku monogatari (Antarctica), based on a true story about two Japanese scientists on an Antarctic expedition in 1958 whose sled dogs were stranded. When they were finally able to return some months later, some of the dogs had managed to survive.

For the Disney version of the movie, we’re dealing with Americans. Gerry Shepherd (Paul Walker) is a guide at the National Science Foundation outpost in Antarctica, with his trusty team of sled dogs: Maya, Shorty, Max, Old Jack, Truman, Dewey, Buck, and Shadow. With a seriously-injured research scientist (Bruce Greenwood) and a fast-approaching winter storm, the human members of the crew have to pull out, leaving the canines behind. The dogs are on their own, trying to survive the harsh Antarctic winter, while Gerry tries for months to get back there and get them out.

The dogs own this movie. There’s no question about it. They are cute, they are furry, and they are in trouble. We’re rooting for their survival just as much as the people in the film are.

These dogs have to contend with the furious Antarctic weather, find food, and fight predators for months on end while they’re stranded at the bottom of the world, and it takes approximately fifteen seconds for the audience to form an emotional attachment to them. It’s amazing how smart the dogs are, and how much they care about one another. They become like a furry family, and you don’t want to see it lose a single member.

However, these are harsh conditions. There are times in the movie where honestly, if you don’t get a lump in your throat, you have no heart. It’s hard to tell who will be sadder when a dog doesn’t make it: the audience, or its fellow dogs.

If it weren’t for the dogs, it’s pretty safe to say Eight Below wouldn’t be worth watching. None of the human characters are particularly interesting. They’re decent enough people, but they’re all pretty typical: macho guide, nerdy scientist, cute love interest, and comic relief (Jason Biggs, God bless him, does much to lighten the mood).

The only real reason we can identify with the people is because they’re trying to do what we want to: rescue the poor stranded doggies. We get just as frustrated as Gerry does every time he hits a brick wall, but outside of that it doesn’t matter. So why Disney felt the need to have an obligatory romance subplot is beyond me.

Animal lovers everywhere, this is your film for the weekend. It’s funny, touching, emotional, and rated PG so you can take the kids. It’s proof that dogs can be better actors than people.

On a friendly side note: like I said, lots of people will watch this and say, “Ooh, I want a husky!” Just remember, pets, especially dogs, are not an impulse purchase, and you should do your research on huskies before deciding whether or not to get one.

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