Eight Below Review

During a recent skiing holiday to Les Arcs in France I came across husky dogs for the first time. They are beautiful creatures who spend most of their lives working in the snow, be it pulling sleds or aiding explorers in their icy treks. In Eight Below, the latest live action release from Disney, huskies take centre stage in a film which has been billed as "the greatest adventure ever told". However, even if viewed as children's entertainment, this claim is an amusing lie. Poorly conceived and very averagely executed, Frank Marshall's film could have offered a lot more if it weren't for a dull script.

The story, in typical Disney fashion, is a tale of courage and friendship that spans species and – some might say – common sense. After Paul Walker's character Jerry runs into trouble with Dr. Davis McClaren (Bruce Greenwood) during a fairly routine expedition in Antarctica, a lack of space in the helicopter means that they must abandon their beloved husky dogs at base camp if they are to stand any chance of making it back home alive. Over the course of the next few months the eight huskies battle to survive in subzero temperatures whilst Jerry is trying his best to shake off his feelings of guilt and sadness. Can the dogs be saved? Does anyone really care?

Whilst the Disney classic Homeward Bound managed to create a palpable sense of friendship, courage and purpose, Eight Below is noticeably lacking. Feelings are broadly sketched, the dogs lack any individual personalities and the human drama back at home is woefully inadequate. There is no conflict aside from Paul Walker going through the motions as he painfully tries to convey to the audience that his character is suffering from internal turmoil. On the other hand, the enjoyable family film Fly Away Home managed to balance a human and animalistic storyline with aplomb and grace. Eight Below is merely clumsy.

However, the film does have some positive aspects. The cinematography is gorgeous and whilst Frank Marshall – who occasionally directs but frequently produces some great films – seems a little out of his depth behind the camera, the narrative pacing is good and children will no doubt enjoy watching the huskies. Meanwhile the actors are competent and they are only limited by the shallow script.

As children's entertainment this is worth a rent. They will no doubt overlook the lack of depth, the broadly-sketched situations and the cardboard characters in favour of icy blue photography and cute furry animals. Adults might put up with the film at a push but this one is certainly not a keeper.

The Disc
This review of the Region 3 disc – which appears to be identical to its Region 1 counterpart – is kindly sponsored by CD-Wow. The disc's menus are functional and English, Chinese, Bahasa, Thai, Malay, Korean, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles are available during the main feature.

Audio-Visual Presentation
Presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen the film looks great and I noticed no significant problems whatsoever. Colours are deep and well-defined, the Antarctic landscapes are rendered with cool precision and no digital artefacts are present. The only slight drawback was an occasional lack of sharpness, perhaps due to this DVD-9 being filled with five different soundtracks and an average amount of extras. However, this transfer is still very pleasing and more than acceptable. Moving onto the sound department, the English Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is fine and everything is presented with clarity. It's nothing spectacular but it does the job well.

Two audio commentaries are present, something which seems a little odd on what is essentially a kids' DVD. Nevertheless, they are informative and mildly interesting. The first, featuring director Frank Marshall and producer Pat Crowley, discusses the technical side of things, whilst the second commentary features Marshall, Paul Walker and DP Don Burgess. It is more conversational yet still carries a few interesting titbits.

Five deleted scenes are painful to watch, add nothing and were rightfully cut. A 10-minute documentary focusing on the handling of the huskies is interesting and it thankfully bypasses the usual back-slapping which dominates EPK fluff.

A decidedly-average film is presented on a very good disc. This R3 release is priced well so parents might want to pick up a copy for their kids, but in my opinion this film amounts to rental material at best.

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