"Inspired by a true story, EIGHT BELOW is an action-adventure about loyalty and the bonds of friendship set in the extreme wilderness of Antarctica. The film tells the story of three members of a scientific expedition: Jerry Shepard, his best friend, Cooper, and a rugged American geologist, who are forced to leave behind their team of beloved sled dogs due to a sudden accident and perilous weather conditions in Antarctica. During the harsh, Antarctic winter, the dogs must struggle for survival alone in the intense frozen wilderness for over 6 months.
NOTE: This spoiler was sent in by Tom T who says..."This was a very entertaining Disney family movie that everyone can enjoy. The dog's perspective is enthralling, and while the human story that parallels it is a bit predictable, it is also handled well. However parents should be warned that there is a scary scene involving the dogs, whale carcass, and a nasty leopard seal. Also, even though the title implies otherwise, not all the dogs make it."
Jerry Shepard (Paul Walker) is a guide at Weather Station in Antarctica. His job is to take scientists to remote corners of the area around the base with his pack of 8 well-trained huskies. Each dog has a distinct personality with two named Max and Maya being the most memorable. We also meet his buddy, Cooper, a cartographer (Jason Biggs) and Katie,(Moon Bloodgood) a pilot who brings in supplies and passengers, and who is Shepard's on again, off again love interest
Katie has brought along UCLA Professor McLaren (Bruce Greenwood) who has traveled across the globe to the icy continent to look for a rare meteorite. Jerry gets the assignment to take him where he wants to go. McLaren seems kind of stuffy at first, but turns out to be a nice guy who bonds well with Jerry and the dogs on their joruney. They make it to their destination, but then get word from the base that a huge storm is coming and they have to return ASAP. Jerry wants to go right then and there, but the McLaren convinces him to stay for _ day since you have to take risks for things you believe in (this quote pops up later). When they bunk down, the Professor shows Jerry a picture of his family and a picture his child made for him, saying that he gets one for every trip (also important later).
Jerry and the McLaren search for the meteorite and wonder of wonders find what they are looking for, which will really help the McLaren's career. Men and dogs hightail back to the base, barely keeping ahead of the incoming storm.
However, when they stop to get their bearings, McLaren falls down a cliff onto the ice and through it, breaking his leg. Jerry and the dogs pull off a courageous rescue (which is thrilling stuff), ditch the gear (but not the meteorite), bundle up McLaren, and make it back through the blinding storm to the base just in time, where Katie, Cooper and the Weather Station crew attend to them.
Then, everyone at the Weather Station is called back to base camp McMurdo Antarctic Research Station. The storm is too fierce, operations are being shut down for the winter, and all stations have to evacuate quickly back to McMurdo before becoming snowed in. Katie's plane at the camp can only hold so much. McLaren, Shepard, and staff board the craft and leave. Katie's plan is to return for the dogs.
When Jerry comes to at McMurdo, he finds out he and the McLaren are going to be OK. However, Katie and Cooper tell him that the weather has gotten so bad that a flight back to get the dogs is denied by the command staff A guilt-ridden Shepard is shipper back to the USA.
The movie now shifts back and forth from the dog's perspective to the humans. You are always given an update as to how long the dogs are on their own (ultimately they were on their own for 6 months).
Jerry spends six months trying to find the resources to return and rescue the dogs he loves, who were left chained outside in the cold. He does not have any luck. While the folks he has to go to are sympathetic there is not enough money and the weather is still too bad and no expeditions are planned until the following year. Jerry meets McLaren, who is grateful to Jerry and the dogs for saving him. However, he cannot help Jerry either as he cannot get funds from UCLA.
Meanwhile the eight dogs have gotten tired of waiting for help and manage to break free of the leashes they were tethered to so the storm would not blow them away. Sadly, one of the dogs is older and is too weak to survive the storm.
However, these are not your everyday hounds. They band together like a pack of wolves and wander the area around the base camp hunting sea gulls to survive. Sadly, another dog dies in a mishap and one of the dogs (Max) gets separated from the others in a snow storm. The other 5 dogs continue to wander around the area getting into some scrapes but working together to overcome them.
Meanwhile back in the USA, Jerry goes to see McLaren at UCLA at a ceremony that is honoring the Professor for his discovery. The Professor gives a nice speech where he thanks Jerry and the dogs for saving him. They have a drink after, and Jerry tells him he is going to Christchurch, New Zealand (a popular jump off point to Antarctica for most expeditions) to see if he can get a ride South so he can find out what happened to the dogs. McLaren asks why, since the dogs have probably dies by now. Jerry replies with the same line McLaren used earlier (cue uplifting music) You have to take risks for things you believe in.
Back to the dogs . Max has stumbled upon a carcass of a killer whale (WARNING: Parents with kids who don't like Jaws like moments should be prepared) and is digging in when in a vicious leopard seal, which has been sleeping IN the carcass (don't ask) leaps out. Max gets away but then reunites with his 5 companions, who also notice the dead whale as well. Working together, Max lures the whale away so the others can eat. However, the seal and the dogs eventually get into it and the Maya gets nipped in the leg by the seal. The other dogs manage to drive the seal off and feed up.
Back in the US of A, McLaren comes home from the UCLA soiree, and kisses wife and child goodnight. As he is tucking in his youngster, he sees that the kid has drawn a picture of 8 dogs titled (The dogs that saved my daddy). This kicks McLaren into gear and we see a scene of him looking at financial statements from the meteorite expedition.
Back to the dogs ..The remaining six keep wandering, decreasing the sea gull population but it is clear they are getting weaker (especially Maya).
We now cut back to Christchurch, New Zealand, where Jerry is not finding any luck finding a ship to take him to Antarctica. He is at a bar where he is surprised to see Katie, Cooper, . and McLaren. It turns out that since the expedition was cut short because of the storm, McLaren got the surplus cash to hire out an icebreaker and a chopper to help Jerry. (*Sure, happens all the time, but this is a Disney movie :)
Off our friends go and we next see them in an icebreaker smashing its way through the ice. However, because of ice that even an icebreaker can't break, Jerry and friends only get within 100 miles of the weather station where the dogs were.
Fortunately, Cooper remembers an Italian weather station, where his girlfriend worked, is close enough to the icebreaker to get to by helicopter (which Katie can fly) , and the station has a vehicle that can get them the rest of the way. Jerry doesn't really believe Cooper has a girlfriend, but will give it a shot. Turns out that they find the station (which is close for the winter). They break into the garage and find the vehicle Cooper mentioned, which is more than adequate to the task and fueled up to boot. In a funny moment, Cooper provides Jerry proof that the girlfriend is for real as well (I have to say Jason Biggs was the most entertaining bipedal character. His comic relief was always a scene stealer.)
Jerry, McLaren, Katie, and Cooper fuel up the vehicle at the Italian station and set off for the base camp. There, they find the body of one of the dogs, but notice that the other 7 have broken free. The folks really don't know how or where to start looking for the others. Happily, in classic Disney fashion, bounding over the hill come the 5 remaining dogs (no Maya). Joyous reunion of human and husky! Though Jerry is sad that three did not make it, that five survived is miraculous.
But wait, Max runs away and Jerry follows him over the aforementioned hill where he finds Maya, who was too weak to make the last dash. Jerry picks her up and carries her back to others where it is clear she will be OK too.
The last scene shows Jerry, Katie (whom we infer will now become Mrs. Jerry), Cooper, McLaren and the six surviving dogs driving back to the Italian station to fix the door to the garage, return the vehicle and head home. The final shot is of a cross with 2 collars on it to honor the 2 dogs that did not make it.
Now, this movie was based on a true story. The true story was that there was a Japanese expedition in Antarctica in 1958 where a science expedition had to leave behind 15 sled dogs under similar circumstances that we see in Eight Below. The story of what happened to those dogs was told in a 1983 Japanese movie called Nankyoku Monogatari (released in the USA with the name Antarctica) I saw this movie and it is a magnificent picture. However, if you want to rent it for the family, be warned that the story in this movie is much grittier and only two dogs made it out of fifteen.
*CUT TO THE CHASE*
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Two of the eight sled dogs die while being stranded in Antartica for seven months, when all the exploration teams are forced to evacuate because of bad weather. Buck, the oldest, freezes to death after he can't get out of his collar and chain. One of the "twins" is also killed after he falls down a cliff and breaks his back, succumbing to the elements.
Maya, the pack leader, is bitten and severely wounded by a seal while the dogs scavenge a whale carcass, but makes it OK. The remaining six are all rescued by Gerry Shepherd (Paul Walker) and his exploration team when the weather finally breaks.
The two lost dogs are buried, and the film is then dedicated to Antartic explorers and their sled dogs, for their bravery and spirit.
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