‘Big Miracle’ won’t offend you ... or entertain you

Christopher K. Conner, arts critic

By A Contributor

In 1988, in Barrow, Alaska, three whales were trapped miles from the open ocean as ice spread out over the water.

“Big Miracle” retells the story of extraordinary measures taken to rescue the whales.  In a vain attempt to make that plot more interesting, the story includes a number of sub-plots, a list of which would be almost as boring as my daughter thought the film was.

The film starts with a whale hunt.  Curious considering the theme of the film, but it does, mercifully, skip the gory details.  Instead the director focuses on the relationship of Nathan (Ahmaogak Sweeney) and his grandfather Malik (John Pingayak) as the grandfather tries to pass on traditional knowledge to the boy.  Nathan turns out to be a slow study of tradition, instead being much more interested in the work of Adam Carlson (John Krasinski), a reporter from Anchorage assigned to report from around Alaska.

Desperate for material, Adam is shooting some unimpressive snowmobile tricks performed by one of Nathan’s friends when he discovers three gray whales coming up for air through a shrinking hole in the ice.  Estimating that the whales have a few days before the hole seals up and they drown, Adam puts the story together and sends it to his home station in Anchorage.  By chance the spot ends up on the national news, where the horde mentality of the media spins the story into a hysteria that ultimately spans the world.

Drew Barrymore stars as the frenetic Greenpeace activist Rachel Kramer.  She gives a believable performance and is suitably annoying which keeps her character from getting too much sympathy.  In fact, most of the characters rely too heavily on stereotypes, and the few attempts to break out of those stereotypes are half-hearted at best.  One advantage of this is cast of characters is so predictable and uninteresting the whales seem vibrant in comparison.

Not to be outdone, as uninteresting as the characters are, they seem even less interested in the dialog they are delivering.  With the exception of Barrymore, who occasionally seems invested in her character, much of the dialog is choppy and unnatural, as though the characters are in a hurry to get through the movie as fast as possible, but they have a list of rote lines they have to get out to fulfill their contract. 

One common theme used often in 1980s feel good movies was the coming together of Cold War superpowers, where Soviet and American forces team up to resolve some challenge.  The inevitable resurrection of this theme in “Big Miracle” is awkwardly tacked on, almost reluctantly.  The handful of scenes showing President Reagan were poorly done and pathetic visually.  I suspect it would have been easier and more believable to add a CGI alien or hobbit to those scenes instead.

It is likely I had higher hopes for “Big Miracle” than it deserved.  It has all the earmarks of a cable channel family movie, and does a good job of not being offensive to most sensibilities.  Unfortunately that leaves a film that is dull for young and old alike.  If that is what passes for “family” entertainment, I think I’ll just take the kids to the park.

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