Big Miracle

Posted on February 2, 2012 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, character gets tipsy
Violence/ Scariness: Human and animal characters in peril, references to hunting and eating whales, sad animal death
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: February 3, 2012
Date Released to DVD: June 18, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B005LAIGQ4

“You’re not as easy to hate as I thought,” an oil man tells an environmental activist in “Big Miracle,” the heartwarming true story of a 1987 effort to rescue three Alaskan whales. It could just as well have been said by any of the more than a dozen lead characters who find themselves part of a “cockeyed coalition.” People who viewed each other with suspicion, if not downright animosity, are brought together to save a family of whales affectionately named after Flintstones characters.

The obstacle for the whales was five miles of ice that had to be cut away in sub-zero temperatures so the whales could get to the ocean. The bigger obstacle was the struggle for the humans to try to find a way to work together.

“Big Miracle” is the story of a rescue operation put together by people who each wanted something different. Native Inupiat whale hunters wanted to “harvest” (kill and eat) the whales. Environmentalists wanted to protect them. The US military did not want to ask for help from a Soviet ice cutting ship. An oil developer wanted to improve his reputation. Two Minnesota entrepreneurs wanted to show off their ice melting machine.  Politicians wanted to look good or look innocent. And journalists wanted a story.

Director Ken Kwapis and screenwriters Jack Amiel and Michael Begler deftly keep the multi-character story from getting too cluttered with the help of appealing performances that give us an instant connection to the humans who are literally trying to save the whales. Standouts in the cast include John Krasinski as a television reporter who is tired of being stuck in a backwater where nothing exciting happens, Kathy Baker as an unexpected supporter with inside information, Dermot Mulroney as a frustrated military officer, and John Pingayeck on his first movie role as a grandfather trying to teach his grandson to listen to the world outside his earphones.

When the reporter’s story is picked up for a national broadcast, the first to arrive is Rachel (an earnest and believably bedraggled Drew Barrymore).  She is an environmental activist with no resources but a good story. One by one, those who resist getting involved revise their positions when they are in the spotlight. No one wants to risk bad publicity–or pass up the chance to look heroic.

Even as the people come together, the logistical challenge becomes overwhelming and — parent alert — the ultimate rescue is bittersweet, not entirely triumphant.

The people stories, especially a trumped-up romantic triangle, are not as intriguing as the portrayal of pre-Internet news media. With only three network news broadcasts just half an hour each evening, everyone from school children to White House staffers watched the same stories. The archival footage is like the hub that holds all the parts of the story together, and there are some pointed jabs at media focus on the sensational over the significant.

A turning point comes when White House aide Kelly Meyers (based on Bonnie Carroll) persuades President Ronald Reagan, at the end of his term, to call on his counterpart in the USSR for help from a Soviet ice cutting ship. (Be sure to watch for photos of Carroll’s  real life wedding to the military officer she met at the rescue over the closing credits.).

Meyers sets up a “Hello Gorby, this is Ronnie” phone call that serves as a literal ice breaker for the whales and a metaphorical one for two nations in the very earliest stages of post-Evil Empire relations.  The people saved the whales, but the real miracle was that they learned their differences were small compared to what they had in common with each other and with the giant mammals who needed their help.

Parents should know that this movie includes animal and human peril and references to hunting and eating whales.  One of the whales dies (off-screen).

Family discussion: How many different reasons did the characters have for helping the whales?  How did the risk of bad publicity or the benefits of good publicity change their behavior?  What is different now from the era when this took place?

 

If you like this, try: “Free Willy” and “Whale Rider” and the book about the real-life rescue by Tom Rose

Related Tags:

 

Based on a book Based on a true story Drama DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Romance
ir.gif

The Real Story: ‘Big Miracle’ and the Alaskan Whale Rescue

Posted on February 2, 2012 at 3:59 pm

This week’s “Big Miracle” is about the real-life story of the 1988 rescue effort to save three trapped whales in Alaska.  The film is based in part on Big Miracle, the book by journalist Tom Rose, who covered the story.  As portrayed in the film, the rescue became a national news story and the turning point was an unprecedented phone call from President Ronald Reagan to the Soviet Union to get the cooperation of a Soviet ice-cutting ship.  And as also portrayed in the film, the story attracted more than 150 journalists from around the world to tiny, frozen Barrow, Alaska, lat. 71°23’N and long. 156°30’W, where the locals charged them outrageous amounts for transportation, lodging, and equipment.  The affectionate nicknames given to the whales were not the Flintstones character names depicted in the movie.  The rescuers called the whales Crossbeak, Bonnet, and Bone.  Possibly the most improbable story in the movie is the one that is closest to the truth.  The White House aide working on coordinating the President’s involvement and the military officer working on the rescue in Alaska did fall instantly in love.  Stay through the credits and you will see their wedding photo.

The film focuses on the challenges of the arctic conditions and the bigger challenges of finding a way for the humans to set aside their differences for a common goal.  It also touches on some ot the darker themes Rose addresses more extensively in his book, as indicated by its original title: Freeing The Whales: How the Media Created the World’s Greatest Non-Event  Rose points out that the Soviet ice-cutting ship portrayed in the media of the time and the movie of today as the whale-saver was actually in Alaska as a part of the USSR’s whale-slaughter industry, the largest in the world at the time of the rescue and for many years after.  Rose’s book explores the role of the media in what a cynical character in the movie calls “cat up a tree” stories.  The rescue of the three whales had enormous public appeal, but all around it were stories the media overlooked that were more important by any measure.  Rose calculated that the cost of the rescue and media coverage was more than $5.7 million.

“e came to tell the world about a common occurrence,” he wrote “the routine stranding of three whales under a patch of ice. The only thing that made this stranding extraordinary was that it happened just 20 miles from a satellite uplink earth station. Had the facility been located far away, these whales, like dozen of others each year, would have died ordinary deaths.”

The movie shows how all of the participants in the rescue used or tried to use the media for their own purposes, including Greenpeace, which had to bring in more people to answer phones as calls came in from all over the world and the oil man portrayed in the film by Ted Danson.  Rose writes:

The $500,000 ARCO spent on Operation Breakout was one of the best investments it ever made. A $20 million public relations campaign couldn’t have bought a tenth the goodwill ARCO earned helping free the three trapped whales. It seemed to be perfect timing. ARCO cashed in at a critical juncture in the history of the slumping Alaskan oil industry. No oil company in Alaska ever received more favorable press coverage than ARCO did during its two week investment in Operation Breakout. Usually the rich whipping boy of the environmentalists, ARCO now worked side by side with Cindy Lowry and Greenpeace. In the game of P.R. Pac-Man, ARCO swallowed any hint of criticism by pouring tremendous resources into a rescue destined to save three animals endangered by nature, not man’s insatiable carving for fossil fuels.

Of course, ARCO’s work on behalf of the three whales stranded in Barrow did nothing to clean up its share of the more than 11,000 acres of North Slope Arctic tundra the Environmental Protection Agency said were ruined by oil drilling.

We don’t know what happened to the whales who made it out.  We do know that the media has changed in many ways since 1988 but still focuses on cute, upbeat, human (and animal) interest stories instead of big, complicated, less upbeat stories.  The same could be said for “inspired by a true story” movies, but this one has enough respect for its audience to include a witty coda that is sure to spark some worthwhile conversations.

Related Tags:

 

The Real Story
ir.gif

List: A Tribute to Ronald Reagan

Posted on February 6, 2011 at 8:00 am

As we celebrate the 100th birthday of Ronald Reagan this week, most of the focus will be on his years in politics. But it is also a good opportunity to take another look at some of his best performances as an actor as well. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Knute Rockne All American This classic story of one of the all-time great college football coaches features Reagan as George Gipp, the player whose death inspired the team to victory.

2. Bedtime for Bonzo Reagan often joked about this film, but it is actually a very cute comedy about a nature/nurture experiment with a chimp raised as a human. Co-star Diana Lynn shines as the love interest.

3. Kings Row The President’s favorite of his films, this is generally considered to be his best performance. It is the story of a small town with a lot of hidden struggles and ugly secrets. Reagan played a optimistic, caring young man who must face a cruel and tragic loss.

4. Hellcats of the Navy It isn’t much of a movie, but this WWII submarine drama is worth watching for another reason — it’s the only film to co-star the future president and his future wife. Then called Nancy Davis, the First Lady appears as the nurse who decides he is her “Mr. Right.”

5. “The Voice of the Turtle” A solider on leave falls for a girl who has not been lucky in love in this romantic comedy based on a hit Broadway play.

And for those who want to know more about his career after Hollywood:

Related Tags:

 

Actors For Your Netflix Queue Great Movie Moments Movie Mom’s Top Picks for Families Neglected gem Rediscovered Classic
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2024, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik