Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Eight Below


SPOILER WARNING. “Inspired” by a true story. Here’s what happens: Eight sled dogs are left behind when a research station is evacuated with an injured man ahead of bad weather. They fully intend to go back for the dogs. But the weather gets worse and stays impossible, until the long Antarctic winter sets in. No flights in or out. The late Paul Walker is almost insane with worry, and gradually, guilt when it becomes clear that the dogs could not have survived. Only they have! Well, six of them, which ain’t bad.

Here’s what really happened. It was 1958, and the group was Japanese. (I just remembered, 1958 was most of the International Geophysical Year, which was a pretty big deal when I was in elementary school.) There were 15 dogs, and only two survived. Which was a miracle in itself. This is more or less a re-make of a 1983 Japanese film Antarctica (Nankyoku Monogatari).

Sometimes stuff like this bothers me, but not this time. Both films were imagined stories of how the dogs managed. The answer, both times, was by doing things dogs don’t really do, such as feeding each other and sticking by wounded or dead pack members. And again, that didn’t bother me. We see them figuring out how to catch and eat sea birds, which I guess is within the realm of possibility, though I don’t really believe it.

What they did, actually, was eat their own shit. They also ate seal shit, and probably penguin shit, too. As well as, of course, seals and penguins. This is not shown, probably because penguins and some (smaller) seals are cute as can be, and this movie was intended to appeal to children. Antarctica is the most barren place on Earth. A vegetarian would starve within a few weeks, as there are no native plants, much less edible ones. Birds, seals, penguins. That’s it.

Another thing they fudged: This would have taken place in almost total darkness, with only starlight and auroras. But filming was hard enough in Greenland, Norway, and British Columbia. Adding in night filming would have made it impossible.

So I don’t demand realism in a film like this, and was able to appreciate it as a good story, beautifully photographed, and just awesomely populated with superbly trained huskies and malamutes. They used thirty dogs, which you have to do because no one dog can learn all the tricks you need in telling a story like this. But smart? These are real smart canines. It is amazing to me how they can sleep outside, getting completely buried in snow, and then pop up ready and eager to pull the sled. They love running with that sled, no one can tell me different.

And I could really emphasize with the Paul Walker character’s agony. I would have preferred to cut off my right arm than leave those animals to winter in the dark. (Okay, I’m left-handed … but it still would have been a hell of a sacrifice, don’t you think?)