Big Miracle

© 2012 Ray Wong

Based on a true story that made big news in the late 80s, Big Miracle chronicles the effort of saving three gray whales near Barrow, Alaska.

When local reporter Adam Carlson (John Krasinski) spots three gray whales trapped in the ice off the shore of Barrow, Alaska, he knows he has a good story; he just doesn't know how good it really is. Soon, the news catches the attention of national media, and a horde of reporters, including Jill (Kristen Bell) from LA, arrive in the small fishing town to either watch the whales being saved or die.

Greenpeace activist Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore), who also happens to be Adam's ex, makes it her mission to save the whales. While her aggressive antics can't get her any sympathy, the whales themselves attract the attention of some people with influence. Eventually, her "nemesis," oil tycoon J.W. McGraw (Ted Danson) decides to pitch in (he also realizes it's a great PR opportunity) and lend his hovercraft to the National Guard for the rescue mission. While Col. Scott Boyer (Dermot Mulroney) struggles to carry out the mission against the harsh weather in Alaska, the townsfolk do whatever they can to keep the whales alive.

John Krasinski (Something Borrowed) is the quintessential guy-next-door, and the role of Adam Carlson fits him like a glove. However, aside from being likable and charismatic, the character simply doesn't have much depth; at times he can appear shallow. There's not much Krasinski could do about it. Drew Barrymore (Going the Distance), on the other hand, is fully engaged as the feisty yet vulnerable Greenpeace activist. Through her affecting performance (and on-screen persona), we come to care a lot about her character, her mission, and her conviction. Unfortunately, her chemistry with Krasinski is somewhat lacking for the romantic subplot to work.

The huge cast consists of some familiar faces. Ted Danson (The Open Road), as the ruthless tycoon who has a change of heart, is a welcome part of the ensemble. Believe it or, he brings some needed credibility and gravity to the otherwise young and somewhat "fluffy" cast. As an ambitious reporter, Kristen Bell (Burlesque) does what she does best: being cute and spunky. Surprisingly, she and Krasinski have a much better chemistry and we actually root for them to get it on.

Dermot Mulroney (The Grey) is suitably handsome but grumpy as Col. Boyer, and he shows enough of a sensitive side of the hardcore military man to impress us. The narrator is played by newcomer Ahmaogak Sweeney, whose Eskimo heritage adds to the authenticity of his role. He's not a bad young actor either.

Adapted from Thomas Rose's book, which itself was based on the true events, the screenplay is the product of Jack Amiel (The Shaggy Dog) and Michael Begler (The Shaggy Dog). Neither is stranger to the family movie genre, and it shows. Despite the serious environmental themes and story, the tone of the film is light and fluffy, almost a comedy. The plot unfolds conventionally, introducing us to the myriad of characters and their relationships. Granted, it's rather cliched, and the characters all come across as archetypes. I have to give the writers kudos for keeping the plot streamlined and the characters clear despite the multiple threads and large cast.

Once the story takes off, the plot gets interesting and we can't help but wonder what is going to happen next, and if the whales would survive (if you never knew about the original story). It's then when the story and the characters give us some pleasant surprises. The archetypical characters are not who they seem, after all -- they become more rounded and three-dimensional. And not every this happy and rosy either. There is a dark moment in the story that would most likely make the sentimental ones shed a few tears.

Director Ken Kwapis (He's Just Not That Into You) manages to weave the multiple threads and huge cast of characters into a coherent story. His tone is light in general, with enough heart and emotions to keep us engaged. The characters are all likable -- there is no real villain here (except the harsh weather and ice). The pacing is good. The special effects (especially with the whales) are good, too. If there's a critique, it's that the production has the look and feel of a TV movie.

I'm usually not a big fan of family films about animals. But Big Miracle is a big surprise for me. I enjoy it and come out of the theater feeling good about humanity and the world. If the movie manages to touch one person's heart and change one person's mind, it's already a big win.

Stars: John Krasinski, Drew Barrymore, Ted Danson, Kristen Bell, Dermot Mulroney, Ahmaogak Sweeney
Director: Ken Kwapis
Writers: Jack Amiel, Michael Begler (based on book by Thomas Rose)
Distributor: Universal
MPAA Rating: PG for language
Running Time: 107 minutes


Script - 7
Performance - 7
Direction - 7
Cinematography - 8
Music/Sound - 7
Editing - 8
Production - 8

Total - 7.5 out of 10.0

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