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Monday, February 13, 2006

Eight Below

In February finding an exceptional movie coming out of Hollywood is about as likely as finding some exciting action in Antarctica during the middle of winter, which, ironically, is exactly the point of Disney’s latest release, Eight Below, which opens Friday at the Essex Cinemas.

Now I do have a husky voice, it's true, but I'd never bark at anyone, ordering them to hop on the nearest greyhound to the
Essex Cinemas to see a movie, but this is one that will make you howl with excitement. It's just that good. Paul Walker stars in Eight Below, inspired by an amazing real-life story about a group of eight sled dogs and it is an edge-of-your-seat adventure from beginning to end. I've never thought Walker was much of an actor until now, but with this performance he should definitely take a bow. Wow!

Set in 1993 at an American research facility at the bottom of the world, the story begins when the
group’s survival/expedition guide Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker, Joy Ride; 2 Fast 2 Furious) and his team of sled dogs is recruited by a visiting geologist, Davis (Bruce Greenwood, Capote; Being Julia), to help him in finding the first fallen meteorite tracked from Mercury. Davis is as driven to find his rock as Ahab was to find Moby Dick and his refusals to listen to warnings from Jerry about venturing off the marked walking route results in Davis incurring severe injuries. If not for the intrepid team of well-trained dogs, Davis would surely have perished, but their teamwork saves his life and gets him back to the station just in time so that he can be evacuated before a gigantic early winter storm blows in. Unfortunately, because of Davis’ injuries, he must be stretched out in the plane and attended to by the rest of the research staff so there is not enough room for the dogs on this flight. Reluctantly, Jerry agrees to leave them behind with a plan to return in a day or two to retrieve them before the station must be abandoned entirely for the long winter ahead.

From this point the film splinters into two separate tales (or tails, if you prefer). Jerry’s hands are severely frostbitten and he risks amputation if he leaves the hospital, though he is more than ready to take that risk to save his dogs, who he considers his family, but the military refuses to allow any planes, including private carriers, to fly into the now escalating full-blast storm, especially to risk human lives for some animals. Brokenhearted, Jerry returns to the US, but once there he does not give up his efforts to find a way back to his pals even though he knows that the longer it takes to return to them the less chance there will be that will find them alive.

Meanwhile, in Antarctica, the intelligent and courageous dogs ~ including pack leader Maya,
rambunctious Shorty and rising young alpha-male-in-training Max ~ struggle to make it through what turns out to be months of survival as they search for shelter and food as well as avoid the pitfalls of shifting ice, predators, and the numbing weariness of their ordeal.

These dogs are remarkably trained “actors” and show more emotion than any number of well-paid big-name human stars today. They each exhibit a unique personality and they really are nothing less than gorgeous, truly a joy to watch every second they're on screen. You cannot help but feel for them, cheer for them and adore them. They are the true stars of Eight Below and they will steal your heart whether you are a fan of the canine species or not.

As the story cuts back and forth between the dogs and the desperate Jerry, driven to mount a seemingly impossible rescue mission, you can’t help but admire the young man’s tenacity and love for these animals. Held together only by unwavering bonds of friendship, Jerry and the dogs hold an attachment that anybody who has every had a pet can relate to, and it is that love that drives the movie.

Unfortunately, this does present a problem that parents should be aware of before they bring the kids. This movie is rated PG because it does put the doggies at peril. You should bring along a box of Kleenex just in case. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but I’ll just remind you that Disney also gave us Old Yeller, Bambi, and The Lion King. That said, you can probably do the math and figure out what they all had in common and prepare yourself for this one.

Eight Below is definitely a breath of fresh air in the middle of winter, and I can’t think of a better way to spend a couple of hours than by taking a trip out to the Essex Cinemas to visit Antarctica for a rolicking good time.

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