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</script></div>{/googleAds}In the 1950s, a Japanese research team was forced to abandon its observation post in Antarctica due to an approaching winter storm. They left their dog sled team behind knowing they would be able to return in a few days. Unfortunately, rather than days, the explorers had to wait months before they could attempt a rescue. Walt Disney pictures and director Frank Marshall (Alive) create their own spin on this tale of inspiration and dedication with Eight Below. The film is cute, cuddly, touching and emotional when the dogs are at the center of the story, but when the plot swings to that of the humans, the film loses its steam and gains the flavor of a Disney Channel made-for-TV original.

Gerry Shepherd (Paul Walker) is a survival guide working at an Antarctic research station. He knows all about traveling around the area and oftentimes his dogs are the only safe means of traversing the hazardous ice cap. He pals around with a loony cartographer (Jason Biggs from American Pie) and flirts with the sexy bush pilot Katie (Moon Bloodgood) when he's not tending to his mush team. He clearly loves his dogs and we get the feeling he'd do anything for them. That's why it's a bit confusing that he willingly agrees to leave the dogs behind as the scientists must heed a mandatory evacuation order. Apparently there's not enough room for the dogs on board the tiny plane, but Gerry doesn't put up too much of a fight.

The focus of the story now switches to the dogs and their struggle for survival. The film takes on a March of the Penguins feel as the dogs are forced to brave the elements in the harshness of the polar winter. But like a war movie where all the soldiers wear helmets, it's a bit hard at first to recognize the furry friends individually. Perhaps a bit more screen time should have been spent familiarizing the audience with the dogs and less time force-feeding us banal sub-plots involving the human characters.

Nevertheless, we do eventually get to know the dogs on a bit more personal level as they grow into individual roles within the pack. Maya is the Grande Dame of the bunch and Max is one of the younger mushers that matures and eventually takes over leadership during their fight for survival. Then there's Old Jack who... well, all we need to know is that he's the elder statesman of the bunch at 10 years old. And like the detective in a crime drama who's due to be retired at the end of the year, he's forced to endure just one more assignment. Even though the story has been overtly "Disneyfied" (i.e. animals act and think like humans) there are still many truly heart wrenching moments as the dogs face hardship after hardship.

Distraught with the guilt of having abandoned his dogs, Gerry works the angles with various friends and bureaucrats to put together a rescue mission. But to no avail. Even with Davis (Brice Greenwood) who literally owes his life to the dogs. The filmmakers switch back and forth between the plight of the dogs and the guilt trip endured by Gerry. This would work except that Walker is a bit too wooden and can't quite grip his character enough to make us care. Rather than seeing him as a distraught animal lover whose world was destroyed when he lost his dogs, Gerry seems more like a lost actor looking for the motivation of his next scene.

Eight Below should have been a wonderful little triumph of spirit tale, about coming of age and conquering hardship. It touches on these themes from time to time but in the end it's really just a mediocre Disney film with toned down emotion, poor acting and a 30-below environment that never really feels cold. The only time I completely enjoyed myself was while watching the majesty of the dog-sled team in action.


DVD Details:

Screen formats: Widescreen Anamorphic 2.35:1

Subtitles: French; Spanish;Closed Captioned.

Language and Sound: English: DTS 5.1 Surround; French: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo; Spanish: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo

Other Features: Color; interactive menus; scene access; deleted scenes; making-of featurette; director's commentary.

* Audio Commentary
o With with director Frank Marshall and producer Patrick Crowley
o Director, actor and director of photography audio commentary
* Featurettes
o Running With the Dogs: The Making of Eight Below.
* Deleted Scenes - Scenes from the film that didn't make the final cut - with commentary by director Frank Marshall.

Number of discs: - 1 - Keepcase Packaging