We Bought a Zoo
A widowed father played by Matt Damon moves to the South Californian country and purchases a zoo with his family
On Film4: 31 Aug 6:25PM
Extreme weather conditions threaten the lives of a South Pole guide's beloved dog team. Adventure movie starring Paul Walker, and directed by Frank Marshall
Antarctica, 1993. Jerry (Walker), a guide at a US scientific base, is emotionally distant and, even though implausibly beautiful pilot Katie (Bloodgood) has the hots for him, he's only happy when spending time with his team of sledge-pulling huskies.
After a disastrous expedition with a meteor-hunting scientist (Plunkett), Jerry wakes up off-base in hospital to learn that, because of a storm, the base has been evacuated and his beloved dogs abandoned for the winter. While he dedicates himself to finding someone to fund an out-of-season trip back to the base, the plucky hounds fight for survival.
The title's double meaning might not make sense outside the USA - eight only summons up images of extreme cold if you think in Fahrenheit rather than Celsius - but cute doggies (eight, of course - do keep up) stranded in Antarctica, works whatever language you speak. And, while the story's "inspired by true events" tag is misleading (two dogs belonging to the Japanese expedition survived for months in 1958, as chronicled in 1983's Nankyoku Monogatari, a far superior, but less-child friendly, movie), it's nevertheless compelling.
Perhaps inspired by the American public's recent love affair with snow-bound documentary March Of The Penguins (the film opens with shots of penguins jumping off ice-floes), Eight Below feels refreshingly rooted in reality. The dogs don't pull computer-generated expressions (as was the case in the execrable Cuba Gooding Jnr vehicle, Snow Dogs) and - tissues at the ready - not all of them make it out alive.
This, however, is Disney and things are never allowed to get too nasty. For a start, Jerry feeds his dogs on fish, not the huge chunks of bloody seal meat they'd receive in reality. The film does make up for this sanitization later on when the dogs kill seagulls to survive and stumble upon a killer whale carcass (how it came to be beached on the ice, we won't dwell upon).
Kids will go for this film, but the real reason Eight Below has enjoyed box office success in the US is because it works for adults, too. Walker has never been better, which may not be saying much, but his shy everyman is infinitely more palatable than the unconvincing tough-guy of 2 Fast 2 Furious or Running Scared. Support from bumbling friend Jason Biggs (American Pie) provides a few chuckles and Bloodgood is, in the parlance of 1970s TV execs, "one for the dads".
The film's first half is genuinely exciting, too, with the doomed trek to find the meteorite coming over like a kids' version of Touching The Void. Prolonged scenes of husky survival don't quite hold an adult's attention, but there are some fantastic moments here, too: regardless of age, you'll jump out of your skin Jaws-style during the scary leopard seal sequence.
Kids will be enraptured (and a tad frightened) and all but the stoniest-hearted adults will join them for a bit of a cry.
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