A geologist, David McLaren (Bruce Greenwood), arrives at the National Science Foundation’s base in Antarctica to find a meteorite he knows is in the vicinity. Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker) is the survival guide for the base and it is with great reluctance that he obeys the orders of Dr. Harrison (Gerard Plunkett), the base director, to hitch up his team of dogs to take McLaren where he wants to go. The dog team is made up of six Siberian huskies and two Malamutes: the leader Maya, then Old Jack, Shorty, Dewey, Truman, Shadow, Buck and the huskie-in-training, Max.
McLaren finds his meteorite but the men and dogs barely make it back to base because of a terrible storm. McLaren suffers severe frostbite and must be evacuated, indeed everyone has to go. Winter is setting in, and pilot Katie (Moon Bloodgood; she and Jerry used to be very close), urging them to depart in her small plane, they must leave the dogs behind. Even though Harrison promises Walker they can return the next day for the team, it doesn’t happen because of weather.
Just before leaving, Jerry and Charlie Cooper (Jason Biggs) secure the dogs so they will not run off in the storm. When they are prevented from returning, this is the thought that burdens Jerry the most.
Everyone returns to the states. More than 150 days go by, and the film cuts back and forth between the dogs struggle to survive and Jerry’s struggle to get the funding to go back and rescue them.
Eight Below is “suggested” by a 1983 Japanese film that was itself based on the experience of two Japanese men and their dogs in the 1950’s. That expedition did not end as happily as this Disney version.
However, Eight Below is a very good film. It never gets sentimental, the dogs, though each with its own personality (so to speak), are never cute. They are smart and loyal as are Jerry and his friends who are finally able to return (you knew this was how the film would end; this is Disney, folks). Jerry really has to work hard to get back to New Zealand to find a boat that will take him and his friends back to Antarctica.
Eight Below is an adventure that compliments last year’s fascinating March of the Penguins. Nature can be harsh, and that same nature gives creatures and people the strength to survive against all odds. At its heart, Eight Below is about character and the care of creation. I enjoyed it very much (though it’s not going to win any Academy Awards.)
When they get back to Antarctica the team borrows a huge snowmobile from the Italian base; the name translates to Seabiscuit.
From a Media literacy persepctive:
Many viewers will notice that the one thing that is confusing about this adventure film is that it gets the seasons mixed up. In the Southern Hemisphere the seasons are opposite of the Northern Hemisphere. Maybe the writer got confused because all the filming was done in Canada and Norway. One more cross-curricular theme to talk about with kids is the title: Eight Below. It refers of course to the eight dogs below the equator, However, people who live "below" the equator may very well think that they are at the top of the world instead of those of us in North America. The title also refers to the treacherous and awesome environment of a continent that is always below freezing.