100 Dogs and a Cat Life is a Ball Hustler Sled dog racing, Anchorage, U.S.A.  Sled Dog Team
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Eight Below
Review written by: Alex Sandell

The dogs in Eight Below make the film a winner.  Sure, Paul Walker is genuine, in his most mature role to date, playing Gerry Shepherd, a man determined to retrieve the eight sled dogs he was forced to leave behind during one of the worst storms to ever hit the Antarctic.  Yes, Director Frank Marshall (Congo, Alive) finally puts the skills he acquired as Assistant Director on action and adventure classics such as the Indiana Jones' trilogy, Who Framed Roger Rabbit (didn't the title of that one sort of give away the ending?) and Back to the Future (come to think of it, wasn't that title also a bit of a spoiler?) to good use -- creating a taut, exciting 2 hour survival/action/adventure/thriller hybrid flick that would do Spielberg proud. 

Even with Walker showing signs of talent and Marshall showing signs of being something more than a quality *ahem* Assistant Director, the stars of the movie are those camera-friendly dogs.

It's lucky for human actors that canines can't win Academy Awards, because, if they could, the dogs in Eight Below would sweep next year's Oscars.  The trainer of these pups deserves some sort of honorary award, because his work with the animals is simply amazing.  For the first time, a movie captured canines in their full glory.  These dogs love, they give, they feel.  For the first time, I can point toward the screen and exclaim, "That's why I love dogs!"  Cat people still won't understand.  Stupid, stupid cat people!  The dogs, their trainer and Marshall have created the first live-action film in many a moon to be worthy of the "Disney" name. 

The movie is as funny as it is tragic.  As touching as it is believable.  Think March of the Puppies.  Then think better, because this film has a charm that's impossible to resist.  And you don't have to watch the birthing process of any animals.  My God, these canines are incredible.  Whenever humans come on the screen, you want to moan.  If the movie could be all dogs, all the time, it would be damn near perfect (does saying "damn near" make you sound like a redneck?).  It is the scenes with the stranded sled dogs that keep the picture moving at a bullet-fast pace throughout its 120 minutes.  You get to know all of them.  These aren't just animals aimlessly wandering around on four legs -- these are stars

Their scenes are like something out of Fantasia.  They can't actually speak, so all you have is music backing their adventures (unfortunately, the film's score sounds like one or two compositions looped incessantly).  The scene that hit me really hard involved the pups playfully hunting reflections of the Aurora Borealis.  The scene is equal parts magical and calamitous.  It is everything that we go to movies to see, shining on a gigantic screen in front of our disbelieving eyes.  It is powerful, and something you will never forget.  It is a reminder that releasing films on DVD at the same time they come out at the theater is the worst idea in the history of bad ideas. 

Like any good family film, Eight Below features an incredible scare.  One of those classic "jump out of your seat" moments that you wind up bringing up at some family reunion 20 years down the road, when you're children are all grown up and the doctor just gave you 6 months to live.  It's a brutal reminder of just why sitting at home, relaxing in a ragged recliner, watching a DVD on HDTV will never match the visceral and communal thrill of buying a ticket and experiencing a movie with an audience, rather than watching it in your living room, with a remote-control. 

Home theater?  It's the ultimate oxymoron.  The ultimate contradiction.  There is no such thing as "home theater."  Nothing comes remotely close to the theatrical experience, no matter how wealthy you are and how much you're able to spend.  Eight Below is a film for the big screen, not your makeshift "theater" room with its Dolby Digital EX receiver, $10,000.00 "big" screen and clunky subwoofer placed in the corner, eager to happily thump away to your heart's delight. 

The "people parts" (as my nephew referred to them) of Eight Below (named after the eight dogs left behind in below zero conditions) aren't that intriguing.  You can get through them, but they're fairly generic.  The romance, the comic-relief (provided by Jason Biggs -- surprise, surprise), the concerned rich dude doing his best to please his son.  It's a "been there, done that" sort of feeling and familiarity does indeed breed contempt. 

Again, my enthusiastic recommendation of this film goes back to those dogs.  I can't say enough about them.  They will amaze you.  Yes, I am a "dog-lover" (check out my tribute to Brady for proof), and that probably sways me as a critic into liking this film slightly more than it deserves.  But lovers of dogs, such as myself, are sure to have one heck of a time, and those indifferent to animals will finally see why so many of us praise those "slobbering" canines. 

Eight Below is one of those rare pre-May surprises that is able to entice nearly everyone.  A movie that makes you feel like you got your money's worth -- even if you did buy the popcorn and pop "special."  A film that reminds you that not all entertaining flicks are reserved for summertime and the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays.


There's nothing this movie critic likes more than discussing movies with fellow film fanatics. He's even getting better at replying. Agree? Disagree? Doesn't matter. Let's talk film! Email Alex!

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