This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
You think penguins have it bad? At least they've adapted to survive in Antarctica. "Eight Below" tells the harrowing story of a dogsled team left chained outside a research station when the humans pull out in a hurry. The guide who used and loved them wants to return to rescue them but is voted down: Winter has set in and all flights are canceled until spring. Will the dogs survive? Or will the film end in the spring, with the guide uttering a prayer over their eight dead bodies?
Remarkable, how in a film where we know with an absolute certainty that all or most of the dogs must survive, "Eight Below" succeeds as an effective story. It works by focusing on the dogs. To be sure, the guide Jerry (Paul Walker) never stops thinking about them, but there's not much he can do. He visits Dr. Davis McClaren (Bruce Greenwood), the scientist whose research financed the dogsled expedition, and he hangs out at his mobile home on a scenic Oregon coast, and he pursues a reawakening love affair with Katie (Moon Bloodgood), the pilot who ferried them to and from the station. To give him credit, he's depressed, really depressed, by the thought of those dogs chained up in the frigid night, but what can he do? Meanwhile, the subtitles keep count of how long the dogs have been on their own: 50 days ... 133 days ... 155 days ...
If there is a slight logical problem with their fight for survival, it's that they have plenty of daylight to work with. Isn't there almost eternal darkness during the Antarctic winter, just as there's almost eternal daylight during the summer? I suppose we have to accept the unlikely daylight because otherwise the most dramatic scenes would take place in darkness.
The dog sequences reminded me of Jack London's dog novels, especially White Fang and The Call of the Wild. Do not make the mistake of thinking London's books are for children. They can be read by kids in grade school, yes, but they were written by an adult with serious things to say about the nature of dogs and the reality of arctic existence. There's a reason they're in the Library of America.