Year Released: 2006
Directed by: Frank Marshall
Starring: Paul Walker, Bruce Greenwood, Moon Bloodgood, Jason Biggs
(PG, 120 min.)
"Love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation." Kahlil Gibran
Set against the pristine wilderness of Antarctica, this tale of love, loyalty, and survival is a must for dog lovers. With no political baggage to weigh it down, it is about life stripped to its core and the risks we are compelled to take for those we love.
Okay, I’ll admit it. I even cried during the previews of Eight Below, not that it is a tragedy or even necessarily sad, but because doggie dramas always reduce me to a blubbering fool. Let’s face it; I am a sucker for animal flicks – not those with wise cracking animated ones or your average guy suddenly morphing into a sheepdog – but the ones that tap the real relationship between us and those with whom we share the planet.
Eight Below is based on Nankyoku Monogatari, the true story of a Japanese Antarctic expedition in 1957. The American version tracks the adventures of three members of a scientific expedition who are forced to leave eight treasured sled dogs behind when an accident and a terrible storm combine to force an unplanned evacuation of their base. Assured that their intrepid bush pilot Katie (Moon Bloodgood) will return for the dogs the next day, they tighten their collars so they won’t get away, and then leave the creatures on leads staked to the frozen ground. Film critic Allison Benedikt nails the parting scene:
OK: You know how your dog gives you that forlorn look, cocking his head and dropping his tail whenever you leave the house? Now imagine that, but this time you're leaving your dog in Antarctica, in the middle of a subzero snowstorm, with seven adorably anthropomorphized friends, some of them with blue eyes. ...
By the time their devoted handler, frostbitten Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker), wakes up in the hospital, the storm has intensified and all planes are designated for evacuating humans. Despite his pleadings, none can be spared to rescue the dogs. The rest of the movie consists of parallel scenes –Jerry’s efforts to raise money for a search party to go back and find the dogs, and the dogs’ fight for survival in the Antarctic winter.
Part of the beauty of the film is its economy. With just a few brief strokes the filmmakers define relationships. Paul Walker is good looking, but certainly not a pretty boy. His blue eyes can melt you almost as easily as the canine variety, and he is excellent as the no nonsense survival guide with a soft spot in his heart for his pack. Introducing them one by one to visiting geologist Davis McClaren (Bruce Greenwood) before they depart on an ill-advised mission to find a meteorite is as much a part of the routine as the survival instructions. Maya is “his best gal,” the lead dog, while Buck, one of two Malamutes, is all brawn and no brain. Jack is 10 and due to retire, but young Max, green though he is, has what it takes, to name a few.
The pack proves its worth, not once but twice, as they use all their power to wrest McClaren and the sled from an icy crevice and then, just before he lapses into unconsciousness from the cold, free him from the frigid waters where he is trapped. The heavy lifting here is done by Maya, who crawls over the thin and treacherous ice to bring McClaren a safely rope. Even she has misgivings about it; only her trust and obedience to Jerry get her there.The Jack London cold – about thirty below, and it’s not even winter yet – is best portrayed when Jerry “warms up” some ice cream to share with Katie. Their relationship appears frozen as well, and it isn’t helped when she cannot fly back to pick up his dogs as she’d promised. Of course Jerry isn’t too chivalrous about accepting her heartfelt apology when he tells her, “Sometimes you just have to lower your expectations.”
While Jerry is laying a guilt trip on himself and everyone else around him – he is especially tortured when he remembers tightening the collars just before leaving – the dogs, wonderful creatures of instinct and not guilt – are trying to survive. The screen highlights the number of “Days on their Own,” documentary fashion at the bottom left of the screen. Here the filmmakers do a credible job and resist, for the most part, gratuitous anthropomorphism. It is the urge to chase a flag that whips past them and not a conscious effort that leads the first dog to slip his collar. Others follow suit, and they are free, but free on the frozen tundra in the middle of winter, about as inhospitable a place as you could imagine. Remember March of the Penguins.
They will run into everything from the dancing Northern Lights to one very frightening leopard seal – “more leopard than seal” – with whom they battle over the rights to a frozen whale carcass. You might be surprised at which event is filled with more danger. Will all or some of them survive? Jerry will have to wait almost six months until he can muscle up the money and manpower to find out. Thanks to the magic of the movies, you won’t have to.
In his attempt to find out what has happened to the beloved sled dogs he was forced to leave behind in Antarctica Jerry somehow gets himself to Christchurch, New Zealand, hoping to hire a boat to get him through the icy seas to his abandoned outpost. But he cannot find anyone with a boat sturdy enough to pound through the frozen sea.
He sits at the New Zealand pub, his spirits as low as the latitude, when he spots a familiar face. It's Katie, along with best bud, Cooper, and McClaren with some leftover grant money to the rescue.. Finally, his quest has some sponsors and a chance, even if it is merely to face the worst.
Before their arduous trek, however, the four friends should fortify themselves with some hearty New Zealand grub. I’ve chosen two delightful Down Under Pub Pies, not the sweet kind, though.
Pop the mini pastry puffs – Olives Wrapped in Cheese Pastry – into your mouth and then settle down to the Picnic Bacon and Egg Pie. That way at least you will be warm and full even if the poor blokes and their dogs on screen are not.
Or if you're in the mood for some hearty fare from the Motherland, try the Shepherd's Pie
Down Under Pub Pies
Olives Wrapped in Cheese Pastry
2 large cans large stuffed olives of your choice
(about 3 cups)
1 1/2cups grated tasty cheddar cheese
1/2 cup soft butter
1 1/2 cups plain flour
pinch of thyme
pinch of cayenne pepper
Drain the olives and pat dry.
Place the cheese, butter, salt, flour, thyme and cayenne pepper in a food processor and blend. Roll a small amount of the pastry around each olive. Paint with a little beaten egg.
Bake on a buttered tray at 375° F for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
Serve warm (not hot!)
Picnic Bacon and Egg Pie
3 sheets ready rolled flaky puff pastry
1/2-pound bacon, diced
3 tbsp chopped soft herbs - parsley, basil, chives or spring onion tops
1 tsp salt
grinds of pepper
Preheat oven to 400ºF.
Place a flat baking sheet in the oven to heat.
Slightly overlap two sheets of pastry and press firmly to join. Use a rolling pin to roll pastry a little larger so it will cover the base and about 2 inches up the pie pan.
Sprinkle with bacon, herbs and any other optional additions (such as peas, cooked spinach, sliced tomato and sliced cooked potato).
Use a fork to lightly whisk eggs with salt and pepper. Pour into pastry shell.
Cut remaining pastry into thin strips and arrange in a lattice pattern on top. Brush pastry with leftover egg from the mixing bowl or a little milk.
Place pie on heated baking sheet and bake 10 - 12 minutes, then reduce temperature to 180ºC and cook until golden and pastry is cooked through on the base, a further 40 - 45 minutes.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Pie is best eaten the day it is made.
Recipe Source: Radio New Zealand