Big Miracle (Universal)
Rated PG for language.
Starring John Krasinski, Drew Barrymore, Kristen Bell, Vinessa Shaw, Stephen Root, Ted Danson, Dermot Mulroney, Rob Riggle, Michael Gaston, Megan Angela Smith, Tim Blake Nelson, James LeGros, John Michael Higgins.
Written by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler, based on the book "Freeing the Whales" by Thomas Rose.
Directed by Ken Kwapis.
I always bristle at movie promotions that claim veracity in the form of "Based on a True Story." Even more suspicious is the always dubious "Based on Real Events" promise, which is code for "We pretty much made up most of this." Such a promise accompanies Big Miracle, the story of the rescue of a few California gray whales trapped in the ice of northern Alaska in 1988.
Background: In October of 1988 (an election year, I might add), three whales were discovered surfacing in and out of a small hole in ice near Barrow, Alaska. A local TV reporter shared the story, which was then picked up by NBC and spread to the world. The response was a diverse group who pitched in to cut holes in the ice to make a path for the whales to the open sea.
Their efforts succeeded, and showed that a whole bunch of people from diverse backgrounds and beliefs can work together to save animals that would have otherwise died.
The story of the whale rescue is certainly inspirational, but does Big Miracle tell the real story?
Let's use what I will call my "Based-on-BS scale," with a #1 being "Gospel Truth" and a #10 representing "Complete Hogwash." Big Miracle gets a 6, meaning it's loosely based on fact, but full of a lot of hogwash.
John Krasinski plays a local Alaska TV reporter who submits a story on the whales to his station. Drew Barrymore plays a Green Peace volunteer who runs to the aid of the whales and tries to organize the rescue effort. Ted Danson plays an (evil) oil baron who owns oil rights in the bay where the whales are trapped. Kristen Bell plays a local Los Angeles TV reporter who is among the hundreds of journalists who race to the frozen north to cover the rescue effort. Dermot Mulroney plays an Alaska National Guard colonel enlisted to help drag the oil executive's hover barge to the Barrow area to help break the ice with huge Chinook helicopters.
The story progresses as all the principal players converge on the the ice and grow more and more fond of the whales to overcome great odds in keeping the animals from drowning or freezing to death.
While the feel-good mission should give audiences a warm-fuzzy feeling, there are a lot of mixed and perhaps contradictory lessons that can be learned from Big Miracle.
The first, and perhaps most acerbic message one can learn from Big Miracle is that nothing really matters unless it's on TV. Hundreds, if not thousands of whales die from natural causes every year, including those who get trapped in the ice as winter approaches. The only reason Fred, Wilma and Bam Bam (the whales' movie names, but they were really given the Inuit names of Putu, Siku, and Kanik, along with the English names Bonnet, Crossbeak, and Bone) were rescued is because they were on TV. So, if you want your life or your cause to matter, you have to be on TV (or the viral Internet world). Otherwise, the ice gets you.
The second lesson learned from Big Miracle is that almost no one will ever be prompted to do anything of benefit of others unless they are a) publicly shamed into doing so, or b) see such charitable activity as means to boost one's own public status, as Ted Danson's evil rich oil guy does in the movie, or Drew Barrymore's Green Peace character does so that the publicity will garner more sympathy and donations for her cause (okay, the Green Peace lady really, really loves the whales, too).
The third and most ironic lesson we learn from Big Miracle is that the whales could not have been saved except for the cooperation of evil rich oil dudes (who are seen as the main cause of death for most of the Earth's whale population in the film), Inuit natives (who would really prefer slaughtering the whales for food and other resources), the Reagan administration (who wanted to use the rescue as evidence that they were not the environmental rapists that the Left portrayed them to be), the Russians (who didn't want to be World villains anymore at the dawn of Glasnost), and the media (who wanted to capitalize on the whales' plight for ratings), all at a cost of more than $1 million dollars. The point being, we can all get along and blow a bunch of time, effort and cash to save three mammals, and even if it may not have been the most cost-effective use of our resources, we are all the same, and no one has a monopoly on common sense - or charity, for that matter.
As a whole, Big Miracle is a film that most people will enjoy for its message of hope and rescue, even if the whole thing doesn't make sense.