Eight Below (2006) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Eight Below is a schmaltzy PG-rated Disney film about some sled dogs who had to be abandoned in Antarctica upon the onset of an unexpectedly early winter season. The dogs' handler was sick from frostbite, passed out for quite some time, and wasn't aware that the evacuation had gone ahead without his beloved dogs - "the kids," as he calls them throughout the film. The meat of the film consists of two parallel stories: one takes place in Antarctica where the canines struggle to survive the winter. The other takes place in civilization, where the handler (Paul Walker) struggles to find the money and the help he needs to evacuate his beloved pooches.

The script is based on the real story of nine dogs who had to be abandoned by a Japanese team in 1957. Two of them miraculously survived for about a year on their own. The story had previously been made into a smash hit Japanese film called Nankyoku monogatari in 1983.

I had mixed feelings about this film. On the one hand I sat watching it and muttering to myself, "If you're going to make a film about the Northern Hemisphere, just say so, for chrissakes. Change the location to Svalbard or Greenland or Northern Canada, and tell the same story." This film has almost nothing to do with Antarctica or the story that forms its alleged basis.

Some examples:

  • It takes place during the Antarctic winter, but the sun is almost always shining brightly. In some cases, the characters weren't even casting long shadows, indicating a sun quite high in the sky.
  • The dogs in the movie survive the Antarctic winter by learning to attack flocks of birds. The dogs could do that, of course, and demonstrated that by actually doing it on camera in real time. Only one problem. There are no birds in Antarctica in winter! Of course, nobody knows how the two Japanese dogs survived that year, since they were on their own, but based on the example of my Labrador Retriever and my uncle's Newfoundland, I would have to say that dogs can be very good at fishing, and fish are still available in the Antarctic winter, so ...
  • There are many heavy snow days in this movie  - about as much snow as the Antarctic desert has had in the last  - oh - three million years.
  • The real Mt Melbourne is a beautiful snow-covered active volcano, not a big black chunk of granite as pictured here.
  • Some of the scientists in the film did not know how to pronounce the name of the continent they were working on. Bruce Greenwood thought he was in "Antartica" rather than "Antarctica."
  • In the real version of the story, many dogs died because they could not escape their tie-outs. In the film, that only happened to one dog who was too old and weak to break free.

Eventually I decided that I was just being too persnickety with those comments. So the movie is dumb? So what? It's really a movie made to entertain kids and people who love dogs, and I think it will fit the bill for both groups. The dogs are absolutely beautiful, especially the silver Huskie who plays the alpha female, and the monstrous red Malamute who plays the brawn of the pack. The scenery is just as beautiful. It may not be Antarctica, and it may not look like polar winter, but it sure is purty, wherever it is. The performances from the dogs, and the direction of the dog segments, is excellent. It is not easy to tell a story with no words at all, using only real dogs and their behaviors, and I think this film pulls it off. I found the film completely captivating whenever it focused on the animals. The human part of the story was basically just filler, but there was nothing really objectionable about it. Some of the critics ragged on Paul Walker, but I don't agree. I will grant that Walker is a limited performer, and I really don't foresee a demand for Paul Walker's Hamlet in the near future. He's one of those very handsome, very wooden guys who always seem to populate American films in the manly everyman roles, following a line that runs from Gary Cooper to Kevin Costner to Keanu Reeves to Chris Klein. But Walker did the one thing he needed to do in this film. He "sold" his love for the dogs. I don't know whether he really related that well to the animals. Maybe he did, in which case there was no acting involved at all, but it doesn't really matter. The key point is that when he was on screen his love for the animals was completely evident. And that was, after all, the acting required from him in this film. He did fine.

The story can be syrupy (although it does not lack tragedy), and may also be unrealistic. So what? I really enjoyed it when the dogs were on screen, and I needed a few hankies myself. Take your kids.



  • DVD features not announced yet



None, except the dogs.

The Critics Vote ...

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

Our own guideline:

  • A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre.
  • B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. In order to rate at least a B-, a film should be both a critical and commercial success. Exceptions: (1) We will occasionally rate a film B- with good popular acceptance and bad reviews, if we believe the critics have severely underrated a film. (2) We may also assign a B- or better to a film which did not do well at the box office if we feel that the fault lay in the marketing of the film, and that the film might have been a hit if people had known about it. (Like, for example, The Waterdance.)
  • C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by people who enjoy this kind of movie. If this is your kind of movie, a C+ and an A are indistinguishable to you.
  • C means it is competent, but uninspired genre fare. People who like this kind of movie will think it satisfactory. Others probably will not.
  • C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie, but genre addicts find it watchable. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film, but films with this rating should be approached with caution by mainstream audiences, who may find them incompetent or repulsive or both. If this is NOT your kind of movie, a C- and an E are indistinguishable to you.
  • D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.
  • E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre.
  • F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.


Based on this description, this film is a B-. It has received excellent reviews, and I'll be surprised if it isn't a hit with audiences as well.

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