Going into this film I prepared myself for the inevitable. It is a film about animals and worse than that, animals in trouble. This had “I’m gonna cry” written all over it. I battened down the hatches and settled in for a good cry and was not “disappointed”.
Based on a true story, Big Miracle is about three California gray whales trapped under the early and rapidly forming ice in the waters off Alaska while on their voyage to Baja, California. Even though it happened in the 1988 during the Ronald Reagan administration I had no recollection of the story.
Aspiring television newscaster Adam Carlson (John Krasinski – from television’s The Office) is stationed in Alaska, which is not exactly a high profile location careerwise. For the past couple of months he has been sending in stories from Barrow, Alaska. His time there is coming to an end, which is upsetting to him and his new best friend. Adam’s shadow is Nathan (Ahmaogak Sweeney – first film), a preteen native Eskimo, who lives in Barrow and is more interested in Adam’s way of life than his own people’s traditional ways. The young boy does not want Adam to leave, so entices him into one more story.
When the proposed story turns out to be a dud Adam believes he is wasting his time when out of the corner of his eye he sees something happening a distance away across the ice. What that something turns out to be is a family of three gray whales, who are trying to keep a lone hole in the ice open by continuously surfacing to breathe. The mother, father and baby whale have become trapped by the early ice and will not be able to travel south to warmer waters. Adam has his story and it becomes a bigger one than he could have ever imagined.
Something has to be done to save the whale family or they will die. A Greenpeace activist, Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore – Scream, E.T.), who also happens to be Adam’s ex-girlfriend, sees the story on the news and rushes over to Barrow. The story becomes a national obsession. All national and even a couple of international news outfits come to the small town of Barrow to cover the story, including a newswoman (Kristen Bell – Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Burlesque) from Los Angeles who Adam has had a crush on for a while. Even the people, namely Kelly Meyers (Vinessa Shaw – Eyes Wide Shut, The Hills Have Eyes), in the office of outgoing U.S. president get involved. As does an oil magnate J.W. McGraw (Ted Danson – Saving Private Ryan, 3 Men and a Baby), who sees getting involved to save the family of whales as a positive public relations move for his company. Showing their culture in a positive light, even the whale hunters in Barrow decide to do what they can to save the whales. Due to the harsh conditions even all this help might not be enough.
All the elements for a good film of its ilk are in place in Ken Kwapis’ (The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, He’s Just Not That Into You) Big Miracle. The premise is a basic one and its effect is amplified by the multitude of colourful characters. It is heartwarming and inspiring most times. The film manages to keep the tension going throughout over the survival of these three animals due to the difficulties surrounding the environment (cold, ice, etc.).
Kwapis manages to make a film that is primarily about animals be about humans and politics as well. We see the state of the preservation of the environment and also relations between the United States and (at that time) the Soviet Union. The usual “bad” guys, Soviet Union and oil drillers, are shown to have different sides to them. Everyone works together to save the creatures. They don’t have a complete change of face, which makes the film that much more realistic. The oil driller does not become a Greenpeace activist, but does go above and beyond his initial public relations ploy. Each of the characters is very human with good sides and faults.
Technically the film is better than average. The CGI whales are well done. Some of the shots of Alaska are beautiful. Pacing is good as there is very little drag. A decent family film that will entertain kids as well as most adults.