Synopsis: Inspired by the incredible true story that touched the world, the rescue adventure Big Miracle tells the amazing tale of an animal-loving volunteer (Golden Globe winner DREW BARRYMORE of 50 First Dates, He’s Just Not That Into You) and a small-town news reporter (JOHN KRASINSKI of The Office, It’s Complicated) who are joined by a native Alaskan boy (newcomer AHMAOGAK SWEENEY) to rally an entire community–and eventually rival world superpowers–to save a family of majestic gray whales trapped by rapidly forming ice in the Arctic Circle.
Release Date: February 3, 2012 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Children and Family
In 1988, three California gray whales became trapped in a water hole, surrounded by ice quickly freezing it over, five-miles off the coast of Barrow, Alaska. In a time before instant news made waves on the Internet things like this could have gone unnoticed to the larger population, but one local news photographer sent video coverage of the animals, and the footage soon found itself from the bureau desk in Anchorage all the way to news anchors around the country and the world, including Tom Brokaw’s national evening newscast. The quest to save the whales became international news, and people were glued to their TV’s, the newspapers, and all other forms of media available to see just what would come of the three whales and the rescue mission to get them into the open sea where they could migrate south.
Big Miracle is a rendering of the story of the three whales and the rescue attempt. The original story from Thomas Rose’s book “Freeing the Whales” has been altered, to include characters that will stand in for a group of characters. Notably, John Krasinski’s Newsman Adam Carlson, who stands in for many of the journalists sent to cover the event and “as an amalgam of small-town news people who served to tell the humane elements of the story”–Screenwriters Amiel and Begler. His character is introduced with a news story about avocados and the long journey they take to get to Barrow, Alaska. His dreams of working for a large newscast is evident from the beginning, but his established roots in Barrow and to the native people make him stand for much more in the scope of the film. His former lover, Drew Barrymore’s Rachel Kramer is broadly based on activist Cindy Lowry, but the story of Kramer and Carlson is all from the screenwriters. The necessity to have a conflicted love-story amongst the whale rescue story is quite the opposite of necessary, but it does allow for inflections of humor in an otherwise serious story.
Big Miracle manages to use humor quite often to lighten the mood of the film. Local boy Nathan, as well as other town locals, take advantage of the onslaught of news reporters that arrive in town by up-selling items. The cost of an enchilada plate at the only Mexican restaurant in town sky rockets to $20–and this is in 1988–inflation may make that feasible today but back then it was outrageous. A hotel room for the night will set you back $500. You can also buy cardboard to stand on the ice with for $20–it may seem like a scam but you will be thankful later. Oh, and everything in Barrow, Alaska is cash only; credit cards are not accepted in town. These funny little side-notes are littered throughout the film, providing great moments of comedy when the viewer least expects them. The seriousness of the whales plight is never forgotten, and as the situation becomes more dire the film slows to a pace that almost feels too real for the big screen. There were many obstacles in getting the whales out of harm, and it took a great deal of people–from President Reagan to the Soviets (the Cold War was barely cold at this point so trusting a Red seemed ludicrous), and the local whalers who would rather use the whales for food, as is their custom, then battle the ice, and even a big-oil man who wants to drill Alaska, not save the wildlife. Out of a dream everyone found common ground and banded together to get the whales out safely. Big Miracle is a real-story made for the Hollywood dream machine.
When a crowd cheers for a film at the end you begin to re-think your own feelings towards said film. Such was the case with Big Miracle. Overall it is entertaining, and the story is memorable, especially for those who remember it actually occurring in the 1980s. But Big Miracle does not come across to the casual viewer as anything grand, nor does it make you want to suggest to a friend they go and watch it; for those who love the sentimental animal-related movies of people joining together to do something that seems impossible it may bring on the cheering; for everyone else it is merely a diversion, neither painful or overtly satisfying. Its faults are in the slow, inescapable execution of a true-story. So many details, events, ups and downs, and the added character story lines, make the pacing of the film problematic. The end is near and then it is not; one never knows when to expect the expected beats to the story as there are too many throughout. It may be a great story, and people may cheer at the bravery and comrade of so many but it takes patience to get to the happy ending.
In order to appreciate the special effects in Big Miracle you need to know exactly what went in to creating them–them being the three California gray whales. The filmmakers called on Glasshammer Visual Effects (Whale Rider) in New Zealand, and “wizards” Justin Buckingham and Mike Latham to create the three whale puppets of Fred, Wilma and Bamm-Bamm that would be controlled via animatronics, hydraulics and robotics. Their goal was to create an illusion on film, that the puppets were indeed real whales and they succeeded completely. The realness of the whales, in all stages of their being as Bamm-Bamm does become sickly and injured, is phenomenal–you would not know they were puppets unless someone told you, and even then you may argue them on the fact. The scars, barnacles, and discriminate markings on each whale makes them unique, and makes them into individual characters.
An added bonus to the exceptional work done on the whales is the interactions the human characters are able to have with them. This is made possible by the ice-field set that was built with an underground water tank for the whales to inhabit. Reality set in, as the film was made in Alaska in the very cold temperatures, and all of the equipment had to be made to withstand the cold–it did, and the end results are three whales who can interact with human characters, look real, and make an audience member firmly believe they are seeing three “real” whales on screen, bobbing up and down in the water and swimming under the ice. Big Miracle is a marvel in effects technology with animatronic puppets, and three in water to boot–a great success, on all accounts.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Ken KwapisEric FellnerSteve Golin
- Producer(s): Michael SugarJack AmielMichael Begler
- Screenwriter(s): Dermot Mulroney (Col. Scott Boyer)Drew Barrymore (Rachel Kramer)
- Story: John Krasinski (Adam Carlson)
- Cast: Ted Danson (J.W. McGraw)Vinessa Shaw (Kelly Meyers)Kristen Bell (Jill) Ahmaogak Sweeney (Nathan)Tim Blake Nelson (Pat Lafayette)Cara SilvermanJohn BaileyNelson Coates
- Cinematographer: Cliff Eidelman
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score:
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USAUK