"Eight Below" is the second time in a week (see also the very different "Running Scared") where Paul Walker surprised me by not being, well...horrible. I've called Walker one of the worst actors working in terms of films like his "Into the Blue" and "2 Fast 2 Furious". While I won't change my opinion of him in those films, his recent performances have thankfully seen some improvement.
In "Eight Below", Walker plays Jerry, a guide in the Antarctic who leads a team of snow dogs that ferry passengers across terrain that's dangerous and conditions that are often just as brutal. Not long after the picture opens, Dr. McClaren (Greenwood) is the latest individual to need a ride, as he's in search of a meteor that has fallen in the area.
During the trip, McClaren is injured and the two begin to encounter increasingly tough conditions as one of the worst storms the area has seen in years rolls in. Everyone is forced to evacuate the area, but there's only enough room aboard to evacuate the humans. Although he's originally assured that he'll be able to head back for the dogs, the weather only gets worse, and he's devastated to learn that no flights will be heading back until the Summer. The dogs, probably not thrilled, either, soon seem to realize that they've got to fend for themselves.
The picture then bounces back-and-forth between Jerry's attempt to mount a rescue mission and the dog team's attempts to try and find sources food and water, as well as shelter from the cold. The dogs are really quite impressive not only in their ability to do what the script requires of them, but to work together as a team.
The humans, on the other hand, are not quite as interesting. The film's cutting back-and-forth between the dogs trying to survive and Jerry gathering a rescue effort are involving for a while, but at 120 minutes total, the picture's middle ground could have benefited from being tightened up by a good 15 minutes, as the end result is honestly pretty predictable. The material doesn't strain Walker's acting ability, but he does offer a mildly good performance. The rest of the cast doesn't fare quite as well, as Jason Biggs (who thankfully disappears for long periods) is irritating as the hyperactive comic relief and Moon Bloodgood doesn't have much of a role as the love interest of the Walker character.
Technically, the film is quite stellar, with beautiful 'scope cinematography from Don Burgess ("Spider-Man", "Cast Away") and locations in British Columbia and elsewhere subbing for the Antarctic. Overall, "Eight Below" works well enough as an old school wilderness adventure. It's a little overlong and some of the human roles are underwritten, but the scenes of the dogs trying to fight for survival (especially one scene with one of the dogs fascinating off against a terrifying seal) are engaging.
VIDEO: "Eight Below" is presented by Disney in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen (a separate pan & scan DVD edition is also available) Picture quality was generally fine, with only a few minor issues. The picture looked mostly sharp and well-defined, but some shots looked mildly softer.
Aside from a slightly inconsistent level of detail, the picture did show some minor edge enhancement and a couple of instances of artifacting. Otherwise, the picture appeared crisp and clean, with no print flaws or other concerns. Although not terribly colorful given the landscape that much of the movie takes place in, colors looked bright and vivid, with no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1 presentation is perfectly fine for the material, with surrounds kicking in when necessary to provide some Wintery ambience and occasional sound effects, as well as some reinforcement of Mark Isham's score. Audio quality was fine, as Isham's score sounded dynamic and full, while sound effects and dialogue seemed crisp and undistorted.
EXTRAS: Two commentaries are included: one from Director Frank Marshall and producer Pat Crowley and the other from star Paul Walker and director of photography Don Burgess. Both commentaries are pretty good, as the two pairings seemed to spend most of their discussion actually providing information instead of narrating the story or praising different aspects of the picture. We get stories about working with the dogs, working in quite cold climates, technical issues, production problems and more. Fans of the film looking to learn more will find that the tracks are worthwhile listens. Also included are 5 deleted scenes and a 10-minute "making of". It's also nice to see a card in the DVD case about Siberian Huskies, explaining that they are "not for everyone" and what they require. It's nice to see this included so that there hopefully won't be any Huskies purchased after seeing the movie by people not ready to care for one or not aware of what it takes to do so.
Final Thoughts: "Eight Below" offers some exceptional pooch performances and some decent ones from the human actors. The material is a bit hokey and rather predictable, but the movie has its moments and remains a mildly entertaining family (although the youngest children may find moments of it frightening) flick. The DVD offers fine audio/video quality, as well as a nice selection of extras. A recommended rental.