Saturday, 25 August 2012

Big Miracle

Based on a true story, Big Miracle is about the efforts in 1988 to save three Grey Whales from drowning in frozen seas of Point Barrow, Alaska, one of the most northerly inhabited settlements on Earth. Anchorage based reporter Adam Carlson (John Krasinski) is reporting from Barrow when he spots a small gap in sea ice through which three whales are struggling to breathe. Once his story gets national coverage, thousands of reporters, National Guard and Greenpeace activists including Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore) descend on Barrow to cover the story and help set the whales free.  

Although billed as a family film, for me this feels like the next generation disaster movie. We’ve already seen a shift from the terrorist style movies of the 90s towards the 2012 environmental type movies and this feels like the next step. Throughout the film I was constantly reminded of Deep Impact and Independence Day. There are several intertwining stories with overlapping characters, families watching the proceedings on TV, reporters from all over the world lined up in that tracking shot which you always get, enemies coming together, several love stories, tragedy to open the third act and surprising international cooperation saving the day. If you substituted the whales for a meteor or alien invasion then you have the exact same disaster film which everyone has seen before.

Overall the film is incredibly predictable and banal but it has its heart in the right place. You’d have to have a pretty cold heart not to want the whales to make it but you’d also have to be pretty gullible not to think that they would. As soon as a character enters you can pretty much chart their arc and the various love stories can be seen a mile off. Despite all of this, Big Miracle is a ‘nice’ film which children and older people would gobble up. As a grumpy cynic I had several problems though. I understand why live whales couldn’t be used but the puppet and CGI animals didn’t look real enough. The arrival of the Russians annoyed me too. Not because I have anything against them but it just created several moments where I thought to my self “oh come on!” They are first shown watching US television on the Bridge of the ship. Really?? I know the Russians were heavily involved in the rescue but I highly doubt the country became aware of the impending disaster via the one ship they had close enough to help tuning in the US TV. Later the Russians are seen drinking vodka on the Bridge which felt stereotypical and cheap. Another problem I had was with where they got a US flag from during the Cold War, in the middle of the sea?

It seems most of my problems with the film were Russian related but the remainder of the film just wasn’t interesting or exciting enough. As I previously mentioned, it is predictable. No one is going to go to the cinema to see a family film in which they think three whales are going to die. As it turned out, hardly anyone went anyway as the film only made $24m, coming nowhere near to breaking even. The film tries to have it both ways in its pursuit of environmentalism. Eventually all the bad guys turn out good as the film tries to balance the story with not upsetting Alaskan Inuit, Big Oil or the Government. The title is another thing that annoyed me. As I understand it a Miracle is something that occurs when scientific or natural laws are broken. Here though it is just people working together, generally to further their careers or to get good PR. The title should have been The Big Oooh Let’s Get Some Good PR and Further Our Careers, Plus Greenpeace and Whales but that isn’t snappy enough for Hollywood.

On the acting front there are no life changing performances but I did like John Krasinski playing the everyman role he is so good at. Drew Barrymore was fine but a bit wet and annoying. Kristen Bell had little to do but look pretty, cold and complain. Dermot Mulroney plays a stereotypical National Guard guy with no emotion until he meets a woman, the forgettable Vinessa Shaw. Ted Danson is fine playing the oil guy but his arc annoyed me. There are lots of other actors you will recognise from other things but no one really has the space to shine. The direction was acceptable but like the acting, nothing stands out. Unfortunately the design of the film makes everything look fake. None of the filming actually took place in Barrow, with sets being built in Anchorage. As a result, the outside scenes rarely looked cold enough and much of the filming away from the whales takes place inside the set of a Mexican Restaurant. None of this helps with adding any sense of realism.

In the end Big Miracle is a nice story told in a nice way but has no edge or drama to it. There is one small surprise but everything else is formulaic and expected. This isn’t a film I’d recommend anyone watch unless they have a thing for rubber whales or an affinity to the colour white.        


No comments:

Post a Comment