‘Big Miracle’ accurately depicts whale recue

By Beth Gilson


When films use the catch phrase “inspired by true events” or “based on a true story,” it is typically used just to draw in a substantial audience. “Big Miracle,” however, has proof to back up that declaration.

The film, starring John Krasinski and Drew Barrymore, is inspired by the astonishingly true story of the Alaskan whale rescue that took place in 1988. Krasinski plays Adam Carlson, a reporter residing in the town of Barrow, Alaska, who is looking for an enticing story in order to give him his big break into the news world.

While beginning to film just another “fluff” piece, Carlson finds a gray whale family trapped under five miles of ice, relying on one hole in the ice to breathe through. At the end of the blanket of ice leading to the ocean, there is more ice that runs deep into the water, which threatened to trap the whales permanently. The only way Carlson can save the family of whales is to break through the ice, which is a daunting and nearly impossible task.

Carlson soon brings this to the attention of everyone in town, including Greenpeace activist and ex-girlfriend Rachel Kramer, played by Barrymore.

Through trial and tribulation, Kramer attracts the government and National Guard to pull a barge to break through the ice. While in transit, the barge falls into an arctic pothole and cannot be recovered.

After overcoming great opposition, the Soviet Union uses its icebreaker to break through the rough terrain, freeing the whales back into the ocean. Although the main characters and players had difficulty cooperating with one another to formulate a successful plan, in the end they were able to come together to save the whales from an untimely death.

Although this was a relatively cookie-cutter film about community and saving a helpless mammal, it was still an enjoyable experience. Krasinski and Barrymore portrayed their characters with a sincerity that had the audience rooting for them throughout the film. Even though many automatically think of Krasinski’s character Jim Halpert on “The Office” when looking at him, he broke out of his iconic role and bring another facet of his acting to the big screen.

The relationship between Carlson and Kramer lacked chemistry, though, which made some of their intimate moments awkward to watch on screen.

Kristen Bell also starred in the film as Jill Gerard, a reporter from Los Angeles looking to get firsthand accounts on the whale rescue. Bell portrays her character with gusto and spunk, as a female reporter on a primarily male news team trying to move up in the news arena. The dynamic between Krasinski and Bell’s characters was enjoyable to watch, showing more chemistry than Krasinski and Barrymore.

Dermot Mulroney played Colonel Scott Boyer – the leader of the National Guard expedition to bring the barge across the ice. Ted Danson also starred as J.W. McGraw – the wealthy owner of the Alaskan oil company that provided the barge to break the ice.

The landscape of northern Alaska is phenomenal in the film, and director Ken Kwapis and crew managed to capture breathtaking shots of the Arctic Circle. Even though the whales were animatronic, they appeared undeniably lifelike. When Kramer went underwater to look at the whales, the shots were realistic and fully embodied the tranquility of being underwater.

For a family film, however, “Big Miracle” was a bit too long for kids. The film’s PG rating and theme were clearly geared towards younger children and their families, yet parts of the plot – especially with the numerous backstories and political banter – could potentially go over children’s heads. The writers and director of the film seemed to have decided to stay as close as possible to the original storyline rather than editing out content in order to cater to their younger audience.

Although somewhat damaging to the film’s flow, it was refreshing to see that “Big Miracle” stuck to its “inspired by true events” roots. The film incorporated real news footage from 1988 and showed how the story resonated with people around the world. All the characters were based on the people that were involved in the whale rescue and the stories that were told in the movie were all accurate, showing video clips and pictures following up on all the characters.

It was reassuring to see that even through the cynicism of the world today, there are still moments, like the ones in “Big Miracle,” that display the human condition in the most genuine way.

Beth Gilson can be reached at [email protected]