Big Miracle on the Ice

 

Last updated 9/26/2012 at 10:20pm

Photo: www.hdwallpapersdepot.com

Big Miracle starring Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski is a big shiny Hollywood production based on a true story of an adventure in Barrow, Alaska, to rescue three gray whales who are trapped in the ice. Watching the movie is a disorientating experience according to our film critic.

In an odd aligning of the cinematic planets, two quite good movies set amongst the Inupiats of Barrow, Alaska have become available on DVD within the last few weeks. Barrow is the northernmost city in the United States, and previously was the setting of the bloody awful vampire movie 30 Days of Night. Both of these movies are much better than that one.

The shiny big one with the hollow insides is Big Miracle. Drew Barrymore and John Krasinski lead a cast full of recognizable faces in an adventure to free three gray whales who are trapped in the ice and unable to migrate south to sunny Baja.

The film is narrated by a young Inupiat boy (Ahmaogak Sweeney) whose grandfather Malik (John Pingayak) hunts whales, both to feed his family and to keep the ancient traditions alive. According to Malik and the other indigenous fisherman, the whale chooses the whaler, and these three trapped in the ice are a gift from Creator that will feed their whole community through the winter.


But small-time newsman John Krasinski finds the whales and records a newsbyte on them that gets picked up by Tom Brokaw and NBC Nightly News (this really happened; the film is based on a true story that took place in 1988). Suddenly the small town is flooded with big city reporters, Greenpeace activists, government officials, and even a Minnewegian duo hawking their own patented ice-melting contraption.

The Inupiaks decide to help free the whales, instead of accepting the gift of their flesh, because they realize they are facing an overwhelming tide of ignorance and cultural blindness. “All they will see is blood,” the Malik tells a fellow whaler. It’s a pity there was no way to foster deeper cultural understanding and respect between the tribe and the outsiders, and, from this angle, the rest of the movie looks rather strange. It is, in a sense, an expensive and foolhardy quest to return a gift to its giver.

Watching Big Miracle is a disorienting experience. It is every bit the Animal Planetesque “Free Willy” knockoff it sounds like; this is a heartwarming tale of a community coming together to save the whales, and if you can get through it without your heart being warmed, you’re colder and more cynical than I am (and I’m a movie critic, so that’s unlikely.) But it also undercuts its sentiments at every turn. Everyone involved is playing an angle; the only person operating out of pure idealism and the, ahem, kindness of her heart is Barrymore’s Greenpeace activist, who is far and away the most annoying person in the film; she’s preachy and self-righteous and hates everyone but the whales. It’s a well-made movie, but even after two viewings, I’m not sure what I think of it.


On the Ice, the other Barrow Alaska movie, is small and cheap but has a heart of gold. Filmed by Barrow resident Andrew Okpeaha MacLean, it’s a well-made bit of film noir set in the darkless nights of an Arctic summer.

It’s the story of two friends on diverging paths, and a tragedy that besets them in their last few days together, one that will likely change both their lives forever. Josiah Patkotak plays the quiet, sensible one; he is a few weeks away from heading south for college, and his demeanor implies that he is just as comfortable in a library surrounded by books as he is on the ice, riding a snowmobile and hunting seals. His best friend is Frank Qutuq Irelan, whose future doesn’t look so bright. There’s a wildness in his eyes and a recklessness in his manner that make it clear he knows he’s got nowhere to go; maybe it’s killing him inside that his best friend is almost out the door.

On an early morning seal-hunting expedition, Irelan gets in a fight with another hunter, and Patkotak accidentally kills him while attempting to stop/protect his best friend. The two decide to dump the body in the ice and tell everyone it was an accident, but it’s not long before things start to unravel. Patkotak’s father is in charge of the local search-and-rescue, and begins to uncover the truth faster than his son can spin out the lies. And Irelan, never a bastion of self-control, is so racked with guilt that he almost can’t help but confess what’s happened to anyone who will listen.


On the Ice is infused with attention to details that will ring true to anyone who’s lived or worked amongst Native youth or in a Native community. It’s a powerful film because it’s about the place where it happens as much as it is about the people involved. MacLean has made a memorable film about the town where he lived, and has the potential to become a powerful voice in the world of Native cinema.

Willie Krischke lives in Durango, Colorado and works for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship with Native American students at Fort Lewis College. To read more of his reviews, go to http://www.gonnawatchit.com

Photo: 200movies1woman.com

Big Miracle is every bit the Animal Planetesque “Free Willy” knockoff it sounds like; this is a heartwarming tale of a community coming together to save the whales, and if you can get through it without your heart being warmed, you’re colder and more cynical than I am (and I’m a movie critic, so that’s unlikely). Everyone involved is playing an angle; the only person operating out of pure idealism and the, ahem, kindness of her heart is Barrymore’s Greenpeace activist, who is far and away the most annoying person in the film; she’s preachy and self-righteous and hates everyone but the whales. It’s a well-made movie, but even after two viewings, I’m not sure what I think of it.

 
 

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