BIG MIRACLE (director: Ken Kwapis; screenwriters: Jack Amiel/Michael Begler/based on Thomas Rose’s 1989 “Freeing the Whales: How the Media Created the World’s Greatest Non-Event”; cinematographer: John Bailey; editor: Cara Silverman; music: Cliff Eidelman; cast: John Krasinski (Adam Carlson), Ahmagok Sweeney (Nathan), Drew Barrymore (Rachel Kramer), Ted Danson ( J.W. McGraw, Oilman), Kathy Baker (Ruth McGraw), John Pingayak (Malik), Vinessa Shaw (Kelly Meyers), Dermot Mulroney(Colonel Scott Boyer), Tim Blake Nelson (Pat Lafaytette), Kristen Bell (Jill Jerard), Stephan Root (Governor Haskell), John Michael Higgins (Wes, LA TV reporter), Rob Riggle (Dean), James LeGros (Karl Hootkin), Sarah Pallin (Herself); Runtime: 107; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Tim Bevan; Universal; 2012)
“Genial feelgood story inspired by a true story that made headlines in 1988.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Ken Kwapis (“He’s Just Not That Into You”/“The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”)directs this genial feelgood story inspired by a true story that made headlines in 1988. It tells of how diverse parties, with opposite views, such as Inupiats, Greenpeace activists, the media, the oil industry, President Reagan, the governor of Alaska and the Soviets, joined together and put aside their differences to try and rescue three giant California gray whales, a father named Fred, a mother named Wilma and a baby named Bamm-Bamm, trapped in the ice in the Beaufort Sea of Alaska and thereby unable to reach the open water five-miles away so they can migrate to warmer waters for the winter. Anchorage TV reporter Adam Carlson (John Krasinski), while on assignment in the small town of Barrow, Alaska, the northernmost point of the U.S.,to do local color stories about the town’s Mexican restaurant, calls attention with his local report on the plight of the whales spouting in a hole in the ice, who will not survive if not rescued immediately from the quickly shrinking hole. Adam’s TV report is picked up by national TV anchor Tom Brokaw. After Brokaw runs Adam’s footage on “NBC Nightly News,” the whale story has legs across the country.
Idealist but shrill Greenpeace organizer Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore), an ex-girlfriend of Adam’s, rushes to Barrow to spearhead the save the whale movement. The greedy oil tycoon J.W.McGraw (Ted Danson), a corporate destroyer of the environment opts to lend his icebreaker hover-barge in hopes of getting good PR for his maligned company’s poor record with environmental issues; the crass Alaskan governor reluctantly allows the use of the National Guard to drag the barge by helicopter to Barrow, figuring if he doesn’t he will take a political hit; an ambitious Barbie-doll like LA TV reporter Jill Jerard (Kristen Bell) hopes this is the big story to help her career; Malik (John Pingayak), the wise tribal elder of the Inupiats, decides not to kill the whale for food but gain the public’s approval by helping the rescue effort, as the natives use their Stihl chainsaws to provide breathing holes for the whales on their five-mile trek to smooth sailing and offer their prayer chants to the whales as a gesture of a spiritual connection; two enterprising comical knucklehead relatives from Minnesota (Rob Riggle & James LeGros) voluntarily bring to Barrow their innovative small ice melting machines hoping to gain good publicity and thereby getting their product on the market; gawkers at the site and the stateside school children cheer for the whales to be rescued, as we watch the kids identify with the whales in their classroom lessons; and the Cold War thaws when President Reagan calls upon the Soviet Union’s Gorby to send in an icebreaker to help the stalled rescue.
There are many subplots: including a budding romance between astute political Reagan insider power-broker Kelly Meyers (Vinessa Shaw) and hunky macho National Guard pilot Colonel Scotty Boyer (Dermot Mulroney); the jostling to get the breaking whale story first by the insincere Jill and the smarmy headline grabbing reporter on her station Wes (John Michael Higgins); the generation gap subplot story between Malik and his Walkman using opportunistic grandson Nathan (Ahmagok Sweeney), the film’s narrator; and the most affecting subplot of the romance heating up again between the fiery uncompromising Rachel and the placid Adam, who at first thought this news breaker story would be his ticket out of the backwater area and into the big rating TV markets.
Outside of the crowd-pleasing rescue of the whales and the director’s unwise moves into syrupy storytelling, what lingers is the cynical reasons to act by the lauded whale saviors that range from pragmatic to self-interest concerns. Billy Wilder’s cynical misanthropic Ace in the Hole (1951) is the Big Daddy of such reporter films of those chasing a big story for their own benefits, and this sometimes crude and silly film gives voice to the same cynical nature of the rescue effort and the bogus nature of the media even if it does so in a more modest and less impactful way.
It’s loosely based on Thomas Rose’s 1989 “Freeing the Whales: How the Media Created the World’s Greatest Non-Event.”Writers Jack Amiel and Michael Begler effectively capture how cynical most are about the rescue mission, except for the Greenpeace activist who maintains her inflexible commitment for animal rights and environmental causes throughout.
The excellent animatronic whale embodiments were done by New Zealand special-effects artists Justin Buckingham and Mike Latham.
REVIEWED ON 2/23/2012 GRADE: B
Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”
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