This weekend, my movie class held a bonus screening of the new drama, “Big Miracle” starring Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski and Ted Danson.
When a local television news reporter airs a story about a group of gray whales trapped under the ice near a small town in Alaska, it soon becomes a national event – but despite all of the attention, can the whales be saved?
The small Alaskan town of Barrow never sees much in the way of excitement, but in October of 1988, Adam (Krasinski), a local television news reporter, files a story about a family of gray whales that are trapped under an immense slab of ice and are unable to migrate south for the winter. Six inches thick and five miles wide, the ice proves a challenge for the whales who are unable to surface, except for a small hole the three of them have somehow managed to burst through. Without a way for them to swim out and come up for air periodically, they will surely perish before they can make their way down to Mexico.
Once the story airs, Rachel (Barrymore), a Greenpeace activist and Adam’s ex-girlfriend, makes her way to Barrow in order to try to save the trapped whales – unfortunately, there isn’t much interest by either the government or businesses, including and especially oil company executive J.W. McGraw (Danson), whose firm was just awarded a contract to start drilling in that area. But once the story is picked up by a major television network’s news broadcast in the lower 48, it immediately becomes a national story and gains greater visibility. With hordes of media swarming to Barrow, McGraw soon becomes convinced that it is in his best interest to try to help save the whales for good public relations; as a result, he volunteers the use of one of his company’s barges to break through the ice, organizing the local militia to use helicopters to tow the vessel over 270 miles to the area.
Unfortunately, the plan fails when the barge runs aground over a huge ridge of ice and the helicopters are unsuccessful in getting it freed. By this point, the whales’ situation has become more than a national story – it has in fact gained the attention of the President Of The United States. Seeking to improve the public’s perception of his administration as being anti-environment – and looking to help his Vice President succeed him in the upcoming election – the President calls on the leader of Russia for help. With a mammoth icebreaker ship in the Bering Sea, he asks Russia to send the ship to Barrow to crash through the ice in order to free the whales. But can the ship get there before it’s too late – and if so, will it be enough to allow the whales to start their migration?
“Big Miracle” is based on the book “Freeing The Whales”, which itself was based on an article in (of all places!) Spy Magazine, which in turn was based on a true story. With all of this tale documented so many times before, you might think that it wasn’t worth a movie since everyone knew its outcome – but then again, there have been other movies based on actual events that have been hugely successful (“All The President’s Men” and “JFK” both come immediately to mind). People like predictability, which is I guess why the James Bond franchise has enjoyed such longevity.
Although certainly a family movie, “Big Miracle” does not have a G rating; it is instead PG. What justified this rating, I’m not entirely sure, but there you go. The interesting thing about this movie – and the topic that dominated the class’ post-screening discussion – is that “Big Miracle” is only about saving the whales on its surface; what it’s really about is how the media manipulates the general public in the way they manufacture a story when there really isn’t one in the first place.
While “Big Miracle” isn’t the type of movie I’d rush out to see, I can envision this being commercially successful even if it isn’t a big hit with the professional film critics. If you are considering seeing “Big Miracle”, one thing you may want to keep in mind is to sit through the credits at the end of the film; the reason for this is because you get to see old news clips of some of the real people who were portrayed in the movie. Oh yeah, and one other thing – the flick gives you the opportunity to get to see a very young Sarah Palin as well.