Be careful what you wish for… you just might get it. In several
of my other Blu-ray reviews I've lamented the fact that most of the releases
are action films aimed at young males. Why, oh why can't they release
a wider variety of films? Well Disney has jumped on the Blu-ray bandwagon
and I have the honor of reviewing one of their first releases, the family-friendly
Eight Below. Unfortunately this is a rather average film
that even my children (10 and 14 years old) didn't find enthralling though
it is presented with a very nice HD transfer.
Based (loosely I presume) on events that happened to a Japanese expedition
to Antarctica in 1958, Eight Below stars Paul Walker (The Fast
and the Furious, Into the Blue) as Jerry Shepherd a survival
expert and dog handler in Antarctica. Winter is approaching and they
are getting ready to close up the base until next summer when a scientist,
Dr. Davis McClaren (Bruce Greenwood), arrives for one final excursion into
the tundra. Jerry hitches up his Huskies and the pair head out.
The trip is a near disaster. Though McClaren does find what he's
looking for they have to cut the trip short because of a violent story
that is approaching. On the way back McClaren breaks his leg rather
badly and Shepherd hands become frostbitten. They get back to base
just in time to get the last plane back to McMurdo (the permanent US facility
on the continent) but have to leave the eight dogs behind. When the
storm hits the weather is so bad that they can't return for the canines
and the poor animals are left to fend for themselves, all alone through
the harsh winter.
Back in the states, Shepherd refuses to forget about his dogs and spends
all of his time trying to get back to them. No one travels to Antarctica
during the winter, and without any real money to back his trip he grows
more and more desperate.
Meanwhile at the bottom of the world, the resourceful canines manage
to stay alive. They break free from their collars and hunt sea birds
for food. They even manage to find a dead killer whale that would
keep them fed, but an angry leopard lion has already claimed it and isn't
willing to share. Even with food though, how long can they last in
the sever winter?
This movie was okay, but not that great. I never really cared
about any of the human characters, and the time that they spent on screen
was pretty drab. Yes Shepherd did care about his dogs, but he didn't
come across as a particularly good expedition leader. He lets his
boss browbeat him into going on a trip he feels is dangerous, and then
lets the scientist talk him into staying out when a storm is coming.
If they would have headed back when they were supposed to there would probably
have been enough time to evacuate the dogs. He was supposed to be
a sympathetic character too.
I did enjoy when the dogs were on the screen however. The director
and their trainers were able to coax some very convincing performances
out of the canines. Yes, it's anthropomorphizing, but you can tell
what's going through their brains as they try to figure out how to get
the dead whale away from the seal or how to open a door. It's a sad
comment, but the dogs were better actors than the humans in this film.
One thing that bugged me is that there were a couple of factual and
scientific errors through the film. The fact that this is a kid's
film just made it worse. The most glaring example is how they used
light. It was daylight during all of the scenes when the dogs are
by themselves though it shouldn't have been. It's almost constantly
dark in Antarctica during the winter months, with the sun peaking over
the horizon for only an hour or so. It may seem like a small thing,
but they are teaching children something that isn't true. Okay, I'll
get off my soap box now.
Overall this was an okay film. A family film that kids would probably
enjoy and adults should manage to sit though.
Note: The only Blu Ray DVD player on the market at the time of this
review is the Samsung BD P1000. Apparently an error crept into the design,
and a noise reduction algorithm on one of the chips was turned on which
creates a softer picture. As yet there is no fix for this.
Though Blu-ray has had its share of disc that were less than impressive,
this isn't one of them. The 2.40:1 widescreen image was just beautiful.
I was really impressed. The scenes out on the tundra were really
gorgeous and didn't have any of the problems associated with filming large
patches of white. There wasn't any posterization issues and there
were a wide range of shades that really help this film look great.
There wasn't significant digital noise in these scenes (something that
really surprised me) and the level of detail was very impressive.
You can see the texture of the snow; it's not just a field of solid white.
The details in the other scenes were just as strong. You could
see all of the hairs on the dog's faces clearly and even the discern lines
in the iris' of their eyes. The contrast was very good too.
The only thing that was less than optimal was the appearance of the GCI
leopard seal. There wasn't as much detail on the CGI 'skin' of the
animal as was apparent on the dogs themselves. You'll quickly forget
about that when the aquatic mammal turns to howl at the camera and then
fights the dogs.
Overall, I was impressed with the look of this movie. You can
really see the advantages of this high definition format with this Blu-ray
Disney offers up an uncompressed PCM 5.1 (48 kHz/16-bit) which sounds
just fine. The movie itself didn't have a forceful and in-your-face
soundtrack but it still used the soundstage to good effect. While
the front speakers is where most of the sound comes from, the audio coming
from the rears is more quiet; the sound of wind blowing across the snow
covers plains and more subtle effects, but it does a good job of surrounding
the viewer. The soundtrack had a good range, though the bass could
have been pumped up a bit more in some of the scenes such as the fight
with the leopard seal. This isn't a busy mix, but it fits the movie
Like most BDs BVHE decided to leave off most of the extras found on
the SD version. The only extra that has been brought over is the
commentary with director Frank Marshall, actor Paul Walker, and director
of photography Don Burgess. This was an average commentary with some
fun anecdotes about the dogs and location filming.
There is also an exclusive Blu-ray bonus feature: Ice,
a short film by Louie Schwartzberg. This trip over ice filled fields
was shot in HD and is accompanied by some nice, if somewhat generic, music.
It looked good and there is the option to loop the film so you can keep
it on as background noise if you so desire. I'm glad to see a studio
adding exclusive HD content, though I'm not sure how often I'll watch this.
It seems that for every step forward, the format takes a step back.
In this case we get some new content, but we lose the menus. When
the disc is popped in the movie automatically starts. To select a
different audio track or view a bonus item, the pop-up menu has to be accessed
while the movie is playing. You have to set the subtitles and audio
track on the fly which is a very inconvenient way of doing things.
What were the people at Buena Vista thinking???
While this isn't the best film Disney has ever put out, it's not the
worst either; an average family flick that most people will watch and forget.
The transfer was very good however and made the film a lot of fun to watch.
The wintry landscape is just gorgeous and the disc did a very good job
of reproducing it. Recommended.