We’ve known for years that Disney is out of new ideas, what with the straight-to-video sequels and the constant remakes. “Eight Below” is another remake, this time of a 1983 Japanese film, but it’s more than that. It’s also a cross between Disney’s “Snow Dogs” and “The Incredible Journey.” In fact, if you’ve seen those movies, or even if you’ve ever read an inspiring article in Reader’s Digest that involved animals, I dare say there is no reason to watch “Eight Below.”
It doesn’t help that it stars Paul Walker, who in nearly every film appearance manages to be out-acted by whatever surrounds him. In this case, it’s snow and ice. Yes, the snow and ice deliver a more compelling performance than Paul Walker does. See, they’re Greenlandic snow and ice, but they’re pretending to be Antarctic — and I totally believe them! Paul Walker, though, I never believe he’s anything other than a surfer.
Walker plays Gerry Shepherd, an American outdoorsman who works as an expedition guide in Antarctica, taking scientists around the continent so they can perform their research. He works with a few people at the research base, but they don’t matter to the story, not even the one played by Jason Biggs of “American Pie” fame.
What matters is that Gerry’s primary means of transportation is a sled pulled by eight tiny reindeer, and by tiny reindeer I mean big dogs. These dogs have names, and they almost have personalities; thankfully, though this is a Disney movie, they do not speak.
While on an expedition with a no-nonsense but good-natured scientist named McClaren (Bruce Greenwood), a medical emergency and a subsequent storm force Gerry and all the other humans to helicopter to safety. Gerry promises the dogs he’ll be back to collect them in a matter of hours, but conditions worsen and those hours turn into days, weeks and months. Gerry is forced to pick up his life back in the States, wavering between getting funding for a rescue trip and simply giving up the dogs for lost.
Meanwhile, the dogs are like, “WTF?” Forced to fend for themselves, they search for food on the frozen landscape, wandering around with no destination in mind (making this more “The Incredible Meandering” than “The Incredible Journey”) and occasionally encountering dangers like treacherous cliffs, angry CGI seals and freezer-burned orca meat.
Dave DiGilio’s screenplay spends too much time with Gerry back in the U.S., though. He meets with McClaren; he meets with the breeder who sold him the sled dogs; he is pursued by Katie (Moon Bloodgood), the helicopter pilot who was once his girlfriend — and through it all, he vacillates. Raise the money to return to Antarctica and see if the dogs, by some miracle, are still alive? Or move on with his life? One or two scenes of that uncertainty is reasonable, as are one or two rousing speeches from his friends. But the film keeps coming back to it. Make up your mind, Ger. We’re not that interested.
The scenes with the dogs occasionally produce some excitement, and director Frank Marshall (“Congo,” “Alive”) makes full use of the breathtaking scenery. One thing Disney has always excelled at, even in the studio’s lousiest films, is nature footage. “Eight Below” isn’t quite on the lousy end of the spectrum, but it is forgettable.
C (2 hrs.; )