Saturday, February 4, 2012

Movie Review: Big Miracle

It only took twenty five years for Hollywood to tell the story that brought Alaska to the forefront - well before Sarah Palin even dreamed of becoming the Vice President. The story is all Alaskan - three tourists get themselves lost and stuck out in the frigid ice of the Northern most part of the state. Instead of leaving the outsiders to their own fate, Alaskans and outsiders alike come together to save them. The most interesting part of the story? They're three whales that are in need of saving.

The movie is very loosely based on the true story of a young family of three California Grey Whales that, for reasons unknown to this day, found themselves a little further north than they should have been and later than they should have been. Grey Whales spend their summer in Alaska feeding in the northerner seas, before returning back to California in the winter to hang ten. When Inupiat whalers found the three fighting for air in the closing ice, they were surprised as they weren't the whales they expected. The Inupiat leaders wanted to do the humane thing of killing the animals - their people could eat for the winter, and the animals wouldn't slowly die. The greenpeacers and outsiders wouldn't hear of it.

The movie takes a few different turns, instead of the whalers it's a local television reporter (played by John Krasinski) spots the whales while filming a segment on snowmachine "stunts" (which is one of the first "jokes" of the film). But all in all, it's a good hollywood retelling of the story. Ted Danson plays a convincing oil tycoon J.W. McGraw who only helps the whales as a PR Stunt, but finds the bigger picture. Drew Barrymore is greenpeace advocate Rachel Kramer - and it's not a stretch of a role for her fighting for "animal rights" and skewing the other side. Most enjoyable are Ahmaogak Sweeney who plays Nathan - the boy who wants to see the world, but comes to realize he has so much more in his little home of Barrow - and John Pingayak playing Malik, Nathan's grandfather and an elder of the Inupiat tribe in Barrow.

Pingayak, a native to Rural Alaska - though not Barrow - seems to be made to play his role. Malik is all about teaching his grandson the ways of Alaskan life, and like many elders is frustrated that all Nathan wants is to move away from tradition and rural life for the "adventure" that the outside boasts. Malik sees Adam Carlson (Krasinski) as a representation of the bastardization of his people. The white man who comes in with his fancy gadgets and woos the youth away from tradition for something "better." Krasinski and Sweeney's chemestry on screen was believable and fun. Carlson is Nathan's mentor of sorts, his key to the outside world. As much as Nathan learns from Carlson, however, Carlson equally learns from Nathan and Malik. Carlson contends heavily for their way of life to the other big wigs surrounding the whale debate, all the while playing a voice of reason to all.

Alaskans will love the jabs to the outsiders - film crews come illprepared for the temperatures, and the natives take advantage. There are many "Where's Waldo" moments where you find local celebrities as extras/small roles. Pretty sure, too, that most - if not all - Alaskans have at least one person in the movie that they know personally. The Alaskan extras are featured mightily. (I saw a former coworker and she was the ONLY ONE in the shot!) To see the Alaskan life featured in such a positive - non stereotypical way - is refreshing in film.

The film is not Oscar material - though I would contend that the CGI whales are some of the best graphics out there - it's your typical February fare, but it's feel good. The audience clapped for the whales, and I'll admit I choked up. My movie buddy of the day - no, not my dad - teared up. Chances are it's a kleenex worthy movie. Be warned. It's not War Horse rip your heart out, but it still has the emotional impact one gets when animals are in trouble and "need our help."

This film will definitely make it into the collection - if for no other reason that it was filmed entirely in Alaska, or that I just love John Krasinski. Is it a must see in theaters? Probably not, but what else are you going to do this month? I'd watch it for no other reason than the end when they show the actual footage next to the movie footage to show you the "real people" of the story. You'll see just how OFF hollywood can be, and then how spot on they are. And, there's a "cameo" by Sarah [would be later in life] Palin. That got the entire audience going!

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