Big Miracle Blu-ray delivers great video and audio in this fan-pleasing Blu-ray release
Based on the true story of a small town news reporter and a Greenpeace volunteer who are joined by rival world superpowers to save a family of majestic gray whales trapped by rapidly forming ice in the Arctic Circle. Local newsman Adam Carlson can't wait to escape the northern tip of Alaska for a bigger market. But just when the story of his career breaks, the world comes chasing it, too. With an oil...
For more about Big Miracle and the Big Miracle Blu-ray release, see Big Miracle Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on June 18, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
If you're looking for a perfect opportunity to introduce your kids to movie clichés that were conceived long before they were born and clichés that will still be around long after they have children of their own, then by all means bump Big Miracle to the top of your family viewing list. Watered down to the barest of elements, sacrificing any sense of real weight or depth for the sake of sentiment and tightly strung heart strings, and reducing the words "based on an incredible true story" to a punchline, director Ken Kwapis' beached whale of a family film is everything you'd expect, given its theatrical trailer, and everything it shouldn't be, given the true story that inspired it. Overly simplistic yet somehow overly convoluted as well. Neatly packaged yet unrefined. Shallow. Sickeningly sweet. Unsatisfying. Muddled in its message and all too clear in its intentions. The trapped whales that captured the world's attention in 1988 aren't even the focus of the story; just the catalyst to far less intriguing human romantic dramedies and the means to an emotionally manipulative end. Will families enjoy Big Miracle? Sure. Kids love whales, if that wasn't obvious enough already, and the Heartland Truly Moving Picture Award logo stamped on the front cover will be all some parents need. Even though it's a mediocre movie? You betcha.
We are the world, we are the children. We are the ones who make a brighter day so let's start giving!
When three gray whales are cut off from open waters near Barrow, Alaska by miles of ice, a struggling television news reporter named Adam Carlson (John Krasinski) begins covering the small, Arctic town event as it unfolds, turning the developing story into a media sensation and, eventually, an international effort to rescue the whales. One of the first people to arrive after Carlson's initial reports is his headstrong ex-girlfriend, Greenpeace activist Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore), who stirs up plenty of trouble. She's joined soon after by others: wealthy, self-serving oil tycoon J.W. McGraw (Ted Danson), crafty Minnesotans-with-an-ice-breaking-plan Karl Hootkin (James LeGros) and Dean Glowacki (Rob Riggle), White House liaison Kelly Meyers (Vinessa Shaw), and opportunistic reporter Jill Jerard (Kristen Bell). Oh, and let's not forget the local Inupiat hunters. The Barrow townsfolk. An endless stream of cameras. The American military. The Soviet Union. Cue by-the-numbers conflict heaped on top of more by-the-numbers conflict, all simplified within an inch of a cartoon subplot. But it's 1988, and a family film to boot, so resolution is never that far off; romantic, cultural, international... you name it.
"Sugar-coated" doesn't even begin to describe the melodrama that leads the whales to safety. Originally titled Everybody Loves Whales (seriously), Big Miracle is a handful of Hershey kisses baked into the center of an oversized cookie, dipped in milk chocolate, rolled in rainbow sprinkles, and dusted with powdered sugar for good measure. Never mind the fact that once the whales reached open waters they disappeared. Never mind the fact that they weren't tagged with tracking devices, meaning no one knows if the entire mission was in vain. Never mind the fact that the whales were in critically poor health and received no further assistance after they reached the ocean. Never mind the fact that the Russian ice-cutting ship was a part of the world's cruelest and largest whaling fleets. Never mind the fact that... you get the point. There is one tough-to-take gut punch that Kwapis didn't scrub out of the story -- one children will find most distressing -- but nearly everything else has been anesthetized, sterilized, disinfected and repurposed. Relationships are handled with kid gloves, arguments occur for the sake of exposition, clumsy comedy is shoehorned into the mix, and the performances, top to bottom, are plagued with blunt-force delivery and chummy overacting.
It all meanders along with an aw-shucks, if only whales had seats at the U.N. idealism that, while somewhat harrowing on the cute-animals-in-peril scale, doesn't deal in realism as much as it purports. Each new arrival -- townsman, hunter, activist, reporter, innovator, or colonel -- is forced into his or her own game of social or political tug-of-war and each new contest of wills is almost entirely like the last. The repetition not only grows tiresome, it grows downright exhausting. Had the film focused on Carlson and Carlson alone, documenting the events from his perspective, Big Miracle might have been far more successful. As it stands, though, the constant ping-ponging, from Barrymore to Danson to Bell to Shaw and a dozen others, does little more than lessen the impact of the whales' plight and the world's reaction to the media-generated spectacle. Kwapis and screenwriters Jack Amiel and Michael Begler try to cover too much ground, bring in too many characters, highlight too many conflicts, and create too many storylines to tie up. Simplifying everything wasn't a misstep so much as it was a necessity; an unfortunate, avoidable necessity, but a necessity all the same. Somewhere in Big Miracle, somewhere in its deepest waters, is a truly inspirational family film pounding against the ice, desperate to break through to the surface. Had Amiel and Begler honed just one or two areas of their original script and done away with all the fluff and circumstance, they might have come up with something that wasn't so familiar and forgettable.
Big Miracle's 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer isn't quite miraculous, but it's at least more remarkable than the film itself. Colors and skintones, though a bit warm and toasty on occasion, are pleasing, suitably chilly and nicely saturated, primaries are bright and playful, and black levels are deep and natural. Detail is reasonably rewarding too, so long as a slightly soft, filmic disposition doesn't leave you grumbling. (Tip to the budding videophiles among you: it shouldn't.) Fine textures aren't speck-of-snow sharp but they are fittingly resolved and fairly exacting, edges are clean and well-defined (without any serious ringing), delineation is revealing, and grain is intact. And while some minor artifacting and banding appears here and there, none of it is cause for any concern. Significant macroblocking, aliasing, crush and other ailments don't cut off the film from its source, freeing Big Miracle to swim in open high definition waters unimpeded.
Universal's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track provides a surprisingly robust experience. The ice sheets sound impassable as they should, the machinery and tools as throaty yet inadequate as they could, and each new day's ice-cutting, crunching and crushing as difficult and hard-fought as it would be. Even the quieter, man-made mini-dramas -- the struggling relationships, fledgling romances, and strained alliances alike -- feature clean, clear dialogue spoken in environments and local hotspots complete with engaging outdoor ambience and convincing indoor acoustics. None of it will cause whiplash or heat palpitations. The rear speakers aren't nearly that aggressive, directionality isn't that absorbing, and LFE output isn't that ferocious. Each channel simply holds up its end of the bargain and delivers at every impasse and breakthrough. Cliff Eidelman's score binds it all together, giving disparate elements a home and the whole of the soundfield a comfortable hearthside warmth and coziness that makes it a cut above the usual family film lossless fare.
Audio Commentary: Director Ken Kwapis is likable, personable and humble; traits that make his gracious commentary easy to listen to, even when it grows a bit dull. Informative and thorough, he leaves few stones unturned and even fewer tidbits untouched. He gushes over his cast and crew, sure, but he's genuinely enamored with the actors' performances, his team's hard work, and the story itself.
A "Big Miracle" in Alaska (HD, 21 minutes): A lengthy behind-the-scenes look at the production, complete with ample interviews, candid location footage, and overviews of the film's casting, performances and, of course, animatronic whales.
Truth is Stranger than Fiction (HD, 12 minutes): Learn about the true story of Barrow's whales and the differences and, more importantly, surprisingly similarities between the film and the actual events that inspired it.
Deleted Scenes with Director's Introductions (HD, 7 minutes): Kwapis introduces four scenes: "Jill Spends the Night," "Larry King Interview," "The Prince of Whales" and "Jalapeño and Flan."
Big Miracle tries to get by on semi-wholesome family content alone, but it isn't enough to make the film as inspiring or timely as it wants to be. It offers an environmental drumbeat more than a human drama heartbeat, and gets lost in a wave of characters, conflicts and all-too-neatly resolved relationships, be they personal, cultural and international. It's Rocky IV with whales. Universal's Blu-ray release is more sincere thanks to a strong video transfer, an impressive DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, and a decent selection of extras. None of it quite explains why so many changes were made to the original people involved or the stories that developed beyond the media frenzy -- both of which were primed for a family friendly film -- but those who enjoy Big Miracle will come away without many complaints. Ultimately, a rental will spare you more sighs than a purchase, so I'd recommend proceeding accordingly.