FilmFebruary 2, 2012 at 5:19 am

Save the Whales

Though entertaining, Big Miracle is a bit less than miraculous.

Rendered stunningly realistic with bruises and barnacles, the giant gray whale puppets of Big Miracle evoke your compassion as they struggle to survive under a thickening layer of Alaskan ice. The film captures their gentle grandeur with hauntingly beautiful shots from the water’s quiet and shadowy depths. The action is thrilling, establishing a constant push–and–pull battle between the rescuers and the unrelenting ice.

The human storylines are less compelling and sometimes throw off the pacing. John Krasinski as Adam Carlson, the aspiring reporter who accidentally stumbles upon the trapped whales and uses the sighting to propel his career, smirks a little too much and seems too permanently laidback to offer any emotional weight. Like most of the other characters, he seems less concerned with protecting the whales than appeasing an emotionally unstable Drew Barrymore, his ex-girlfriend and the militant Greenpeace activist responsible for the whale rescue. The film’s neat romances may be based on reality, but that doesn’t make the chemistry any better. In one particularly odd scene, a Reagan staffer decides to loosen up an overly formal National Guard officer she’s just spoken to for the first time — with what we fear might have advanced into phone sex, if not for the PG rating. Characters are flattened for the sake of humor and convenience. Men are driven by money and sex. Women are compassionate but often manipulative. And in the end, everyone is fixed.

The environmental themes are shaky here. The opening scene shows an Inupiat hunting party on the waters. The same men appear ten minutes later, digging a rescue path for the helpless whales. But the transformation is less reassuring than one might think. They’ve agreed not to harvest the whales — but only so that they can avoid bad PR that might harm their whale–hunting livelihood in the future. In the background of the film, we see Inupiat culture silently disintegrating, represented by Nathan, a young boy corrupted by headphones and John Krasinski. The theme is never expanded upon, perhaps considered too mature for a light and uplifting PG family movie.

Despite some problems with focus and pacing, Big Miracle delivers solid family entertainment. The whales are loveable and their rescue is uplifting. And if you don’t cry, Drew Barrymore will hate you.

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