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Big Miracle

2012 | 107 min | PG | 2.39:1

Big Miracle


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Theatrical release date

 03 February, 2012
 10 February, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

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Screenshots from Big Miracle Blu-ray

Big Miracle Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, February 2, 2012

Schmaltz swallows “Big Miracle” whole. Here’s a film of excessive sentimentality, coating the picture with softball conflicts and interpersonal friction, bonding the subplots together with syrup and tears. It’s a story of whale rescue that doesn’t spend nearly enough time with the whales, trying to inflate itself into an environmental statement and valentine to humanity’s occasional display of selflessness. Disapproving of the feature’s brazen manipulation is like slapping a kitten, yet “Big Miracle” pushes too hard for too long, fogging up the meaning of the movie with all of its heavy breathing, madly dashing for obviousness when a little refinement with such an strange story would’ve done the trick.

The year is 1988, and struggling news reporter Adam (John Krasinski) is stuck in the frozen tundra of Barrow, Alaska, looking for his big break. Spying three whales trapped in the ice, Adam quickly sends a report out into the world, soon catching the attention of network television, President Ronald Reagan, and his ex, Greenpeace activist Rachel (Drew Barrymore). With the world’s focus turned to the plight of the whales, Barrow is swiftly overrun with callous media types (including Kristen Bell) and those seeking to help the cause, while the Inupiat community sets out to open up the ice, giving the whales some room to move. With Col. Tom (Dermot Mulroney) in charge of a military ice-breaking operation, Bonnie (Vinessa Shaw) looking to connect the White House to the event, oil baron Liam (Ted Danson, a noted conservationist trying on irony) using the situation as a way to further his monetary interests, and Dean (Rob Riggle) and Karl (James LeGros) coming in from Minnesota to help with the ice clearing, Rachel is faced with a unified effort to help free the whales, watching as a punishing climate thwarts their release schemes.

“Big Miracle” is based on a true story, which assumed command of the news 24 years ago, taking the world to the northernmost point of America to observe three gray whales bob for air as rescue workers fought diligently to create a path of escape, requiring assistance from a wide range of professionals, opportunists, and admirers. It’s a complicated tale of sensationalism and protection, with a multitude of motives and perspectives widely available for investigation, organically opening up the whale watch to a host of supporting characters. “Big Miracle” grinds down the assembly of eccentric outsiders to a family film paste, with screenwriters Jack Amiel and Michael Begler reducing the whole event to a parade of clichés, attempting to reach the widest possible audience by scrubbing away the complexity of the situation.

Playing fast and loose with the facts, “Big Miracle” paints a broad portrait of the Barrow event, with feisty Rachel assuming command of the whales for the greater good, while fending off the interests of big oil and Inupiat tradition. The film is essentially a commercial for Greenpeace, treating Rachel as a persistent crusader who only thinks of the creatures of Earth, celebrating her selfless spirit. However, these solid bricks of characterization aren’t only reserved for the hero, with insensitive media and strategic political personalities swarming the scene, Minnesotans branded with “you betcha!” buffoonery, and a military that vehemently refuses help from “the reds!” in the form of a Soviet ice-smashing barge in the vicinity (the crew is a cartoon of surly, vodka-swilling men). The Inupiat are equally simplified, turned into spiritual caricatures in danger of losing their traditions to the influence of outsiders. The stereotypes are bruising, built into a laborious script that piles on the setbacks, stretching the story out with a routine of disaster every 10 minutes, making any new design of whale rescue a predictable failure.

“Big Miracle” is exhausting, repetitive and woefully obvious. The ensemble is reduced to primary colors to make themselves stand out, leaving the majority of the performances bracing, absent any feel of study. Out of all the recognizable faces (Shea Whigham, Stephen Root, Tim Blake Nelson, Andrew Daly, John Michael Higgins, and Kathy Baker also appear), only Krasinski makes a positive impression, playing a role with the deepest shading, finding Adam torn between national news fame and the appeal of Alaska, where real stories and people are found. I wish “Big Miracle” found something more for the character to do in the second half, where his vocational concern is erased to make room for a lovesick dimwit still pining for his loose cannon ex-girlfriend. Turns by Barrymore and Danson are vulgar, inching the film towards flat-out propaganda with their one-dimensional depictions of nobility and corruption.

“Big Miracle” heads down a disposable Disney storytelling route with alarming regularity. The release is even backed up by a toy tie-in with Burger King, accentuating the hypocrisy of the production. Perhaps there are good intentions buttressing the effort, hoping to leave audiences with tears to wipe away and ecological food for thought. Nevertheless, it’s a monumentally grabby, prosaic effort, making recorded history feel like lumbering invention. And let’s get real here, the sci-fi shenanigans of “Star Trek IV” offered a stronger “save the whales” message.

Starring: Kristen Bell, Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Rob Riggle, Vinessa Shaw, Ted Danson
Director: Ken Kwapis

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