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The Green Life: Movie Review Friday: Big Miracle

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February 17, 2012

Movie Review Friday: Big Miracle

Big Miracle chronicles Operation Breakthrough, the 1988 international effort to rescue three gray whales trapped in the Arctic ice near point Point Barrow, Alaska, as the result of an early freeze over of the Beaufort Sea. This film delivers on entertainment and heart, but misses opportunities to highlight the true focus of the film, the majestic gray whale.

The film follows local TV-news reporter Adam Carlson (played by The Office's John Krasinski) as he captures footage of three gray whales caught in an icy trap, unable to reach open waters, a rapidly closing hole in the ice their last link to oxygen. Carlson sends footage of the whales to his Anchorage affiliate, where his coverage of the whales’ plight gains the attention of the nation and the world. It also gains the attention of Carlson’s ex-girlfriend, Rachel Kramer, a Greenpeace activist (played with charm and dedication by Drew Barrymore), who flies to Point Barrow to be part of the rescue effort. 

As word of the story spreads, unexpected allies like Alaska Oil CEO J.W. McGraw (played by Ted Danson), the U.S. Department of Defense, and the then still-standing Soviet Empire become players in the effort to free the family of whales, affectionately named Wilma, Fred, and Bamm-Bamm. McGraw offers the use of an ice-breaking hover-barge, which is pulled by helicopters whose pilots include National Guard Colonel Scott Boyer (Dermot Mulroney). The White House and U.S. Department of Defense make the controversial decision to call for help from Soviet ice-breaker ships when previous attempts fail.

The heart of the story is the bringing together of people from all walks -- from the local Inuit tribe up to the Oval office -- for a common purpose. Where the film falls short is an overpowering focus on the human component of the story, without featuring much information on or footage of the whales themselves. Big Miracle mainly focuses on the political climate of the late 1980’s, the various parties’ motivations for joining the rescue effort, and a half-hearted love story between Krasinski, Barrymore, and Los Angeles news reporter Jill Jerard (played by Kristen Bell).  

One exception -- a breathtaking underwater scene where Barrymore’s character dives into the icy waters to investigate a calf’s strange behavior -- is simply beautiful; the filmmakers would’ve done well to include more of this high-quality footage of the gray whales themselves.

Director Ken Kwapi, to his credit, does a great job of creating an authentic-feeling portrayal of the late 1980’s, complete with real national news footage of the time, but younger viewers may find a lot of the content plodding.  This star-studded true story is an entertaining “whale of a tale,” but moviegoers looking to whale watch may leave disappointed. 

--Katie Warner

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