Finding films the whole family can watch is a challenge, especially when that family includes a first and sixth grader. In my weakest moments I’ve blacked out and woken up having finished films like True Grit and Rise of the Planet of the Apes with both my kids sitting eyes wide open by my side. Clearly, I’m next in line for father of the year. In my desperate attempt to strike the balance between age appropriate yet interesting films I gave Big Miracle a spin.
Based on the true story of the rescue attempt by various groups in the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. government of three whales trapped in the Arctic Circle in northern Alaska, Big Miracle is a big mess. The film initially centers on Adam Carlson (John Krasinski of The Office fame), a TV reporter who wants to make it big but instead finds himself doing special segments on avocados in the tiny town of Point Barrow, Alaska. Everything changes For Adam when he breaks the story of three gray whiles trapped in the freezing waters of the Arctic. The whales make for national coverage. I suppose the media ran out of shark bite stories.
In place of a fun look at the many different people and interests represented, we get characters like Drew Barrymore’s Greenpeace activist, Rachel Kramer. Maybe it’s harsh but nonetheless true; Barrymore’s best work happened thirty years ago on the big screen. She is now relegated to playing odd characters who should get laughs (if nothing else), but in place of laughs we get aggravation – and lots of it. In fairness, Barrymore was at least playing a character in the story. John Krasinski played the role of Jim Halpert, Dunder Mifflin’s practical joker salesman, perfect. Too bad he was supposed to be Adam Carlson, a small time TV reporter stuck in the middle of nowhere Alaska.
In addition to a Greenpeace activist and Alaska TV reporter, the film includes native whale hunters, a big mouth oil exec who could care less about whales or pretty much anything but oil, worldwide media, the National guard, the President of the United States (a bad impression of Ronald Reagan), a Soviet icebreaker crew, and two entrepreneurs from Minnesota with their amazing de-icing machines. All that sets up a perfect screwball comedy but the ensuing antics are never screwy enough. What should be a briskly paced film full of colorful characters in conflict with one another bogs down into forced melodrama with awkward attempts for laughs. The result is an unevenly paced film with an unbalanced, yet ultimately bland tone. My daughter was asleep before the half way mark. I was (and still am) jealous.
Even though there would seem to be little in the way of bright spots, the story had its moments. There were times where Ted Danson, as the big oil exec with an over the top personality, was genuinely amusing. The two entrepreneurs from Minnesota with their de-icing machines also added some sincere yet lighthearted moments. The shots of Barrymore diving into the arctic waters and swimming beneath the ice with the whales made for a pretty amazing scene.
When the credits rolled there was a decent amount of real footage and photos from the event. It became clear then, Big Miracle would have made a much better documentary. In the hands of the right director a documentary could have captured the real tension and drama in the story. Plus, there would be no need for mundane performances. The real people couldn’t be anymore stale than the performances given by much of the fairly well known cast.
Big Miracle had promise being based on a true and somewhat bizarre story. Filled with conflicts between all the various people involved, the film could have been a decent little comedy. Unfortunately, we are put through an experience much like that of the whales. We’re stuck in a frigid film and the highlight is getting just enough decent moments every so often to keep us going. Those moments make for an almost tolerable experience. Almost.