Thursday, February 2, 2012

Whales Save the World

A “Big Miracle” of World Cooperation

By Skip Sheffield

Can whales save the world?
If you see “Big Miracle,” you may think so.
“Big Miracle” is based on a real-life incident in 1988. Three California gray whales became trapped by ice five miles away from the open sea near Point Barrow, Alaska. What started out as a little local news story grew and blossomed into an international sensation which ultimately brought together the USA and the Soviet Union in a joint effort to free the whales.
“Big Miracle” is a fictionalized version of Tom Rose’s 1989 book, “Freeing the Whales.”
The trailer I first saw looked a bit hokey and corny, but darned if this determinably feel-good movie takes hold and lures the viewer into an idealist realm where adversaries can put aside their differences and cooperate on a mutual goal for the common good.
There has already been some criticism that “Big Miracle” reduces the important role the native Inuit Eskimos played in what was called Operation Breakthrough, while maximizing the role of Caucasians.
From a Hollywood and a political point of view I understand why it was done. This movie is the first one subsidized- to the tune of one-third the $30 million budget- by the State of Alaska. As such it is kind of an advertisement for the state. In a way it reminded me of the musical “Oklahoma!” where ultimately “the cowboy and the farmer can be friends.”
“Big Miracle” stars Drew Barrymore as Rachel Kramer, ardent environmentalist and head of Greenpeace up in the Arctic Circle. The character is based on the real-life Greenpeace activist Cindy Lowry.
John Krasinski plays Adam Carlson, Rachel’s ex-boyfriend who works as a television reporter at the tiny Barrow station. Adam Carlson is a composite character who represents the reporters who became interested in the story and saw its potential as a national cause. It also gives the story some romantic tension when an ambitious Los Angeles television reporter, Jill Gerard (Kristin Bell) flies to Alaska to cover the story. Adam can’t help noticing.
The Polar adversary of Rachel Kramer is Liam Peterson (Ted Danson), the combative oilman who wants to drill in the pristine wilderness. He could really use some good public relations.
In truth “Big Miracle” is more about politics and media influence than it is about whales. Each of the disparate characters sees the do-gooder mission of rescuing the whales as a means to promote his or her cause. National Guard commander Tom Carroll (Dermot Mulroney) originally thinks it’s a risky, foolish mission. Governor Haskell (Stephen Root) sees no political benefit. Kelly Myers (Vinessa Shaw) see the positive benefit for the President and his political party. The native Eskimos fear being typed as bad guys because they still hunt certain whales for sustenance so they work the hardest of all.
Director Ken Kwapis keeps cutting back and forth to the poor whales (actually robotic figures) and the bickering, struggling humans as the clock ticks on toward a deep freeze and dead whales.
Ultimately it is up to “Ronnie” Reagan to put aside political differences and call his pal “Gorby” Gorbachev, and say hey, can you Russkies sent that big ice-breaker our way?
Sure it is hokey, contrived and distanced from reality, but when you think about it, Operation Breakthrough was the first sign of thaw between two superpowers capable of annihilating the planet. Now that is feel-good.