DVD review: Eight Below

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First things first: Despite being a Disney production about Siberian huskies (and a couple of Alaskan malamutes), "Eight Below" is not "Snow Dogs." Parents who bring this one home expecting a wintry romp with talking animals are going to be seriously traumatized — to say nothing of their kids.

First things first: Despite being a Disney production about Siberian huskies (and a couple of Alaskan malamutes), "Eight Below" is not "Snow Dogs." Parents who bring this one home expecting a wintry romp with talking animals are going to be seriously traumatized — to say nothing of their kids.

"Eight Below" is a survival movie, not a family adventure. And it's a damn effective one, even if the whole based-on-a-true-story thing is kind of stretching it. (Yes, some sled dogs were once stranded in the Antarctic when an expedition left in a hurry; that was in 1957, and the explorers were Japanese. Besides, once the humans bug out, everything that happens to these dogs has to be pure fiction — it's hard to keep a diary without opposable thumbs.)

Still, even if we throw out the whole factual thing, "Eight Below" works. David DiGilio's screenplay moves the action to 1993 — the last year sled dogs were allowed into the Antarctic — and risks long chunks of screen time with no spoken dialogue. No Morgan Freeman narration here — these dogs are alone.

Fortunately, they're also spectacularly photogenic, and the movie finds a balance between their time alone and handler Paul Walker's campaign to go back and find them, which – despite requiring him to drink a lot in silent misery and crash a big museum party – somehow comes across as believable.

Director Frank Marshall, whose 1993 "Alive" infamously dealt with air-crash survivors forced into cannibalism, applies the same merciless pragmatism here: There are moments of great wonder to be found at the extremes of the world, but nature has a cruel way of not giving a damn about anyone — or any dog — dumb enough to wander out beyond the safety markers.

"Eight Below" takes no joy in its downbeat moments, but it doesn't milk them for big melodrama, either: The dogs don't wallow in self-pity or fear, they just move along to the next dune. And when Marshall finally does cue up a big, weepy finale, he's earned it.

Disney's enhanced-widescreen DVD hits all the supplemental points, starting with two audio commentaries featuring Marshall; on the first, he and producer Patrick Crowley have a nuts-and-bolts dissection of their picture, while the second teams the director with Walker and cinematographer Don Burgess for a more freewheeling conversation.

Marshall also offers his (optional) thoughts over five deleted scenes, but they're all human-centric; dog fanciers are encouraged to go directly to "Running with the Dogs," a making-of featurette which serves up 11 solid minutes of furry B-roll with minimal interference from the human participants.

Parents will also be grateful for an enclosed American Kennel Club card, which balances some lovely photographs of Siberian huskies with a list of facts designed to discourage impulse buyers from running out and getting a pup for their kids. ("This breed is quite independent and therefore unreliable off leash.") Guess the Disney marketing department has decided to be proactive after decades of cranky Dalmatians.

By Norman Wilner

STUDIO: Walt Disney Home Entertainment
RELEASE DATE: June 20, 2006
RATING: PG
PRICE: $24.95 (in U.S.)
TIME: 120 minutes
DVD EXTRAS: French and Spanish audio dubs; English, French and Spanish subtitles; audio commentaries; deleted scenes; production featurette.
INTERNET SITE: www.eightbelowmovie.com

Source: Zap2it

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