For a young wannabe reporter, living in Alaska can be a bit of a challenge. Adam loves this vast, beautiful state with its warm and welcoming people. But, well, in the frozen wasteland of Barrow—a little Inupiat village—news stories are as sparse as swimwear stores. And so Adam simple does his best, records his local reports and watches as other young reporters around the country get their chance in the national spotlight.
Boy, couldn’t just a little of that light shine his way for once?
While out on the ice one day filming a kid doing lame tricks on his snowmobile, Adam spots a family of three California gray whales. They’re trapped, stuck in a relatively small circle of unfrozen water. And with the temperature dipping to 30 or 40 degrees below zero, their hole is closing fast.
What are they doing here? The rest of their kind have moved on long ago, Adam marvels. By this time of year the ice is three feet thick for miles around. There’s no chance that these aquatic mammals could ever swim submerged all the way to open water.
There’s not much of a chance they’ll survive, Adam figures.
Someone can give voice to their plight and the world can come to the rescue! And Adam just happens to have a camera, a microphone … and a voice.
At first, Adam sees the whale tale as simply a big news story with interesting twists—the biggest of which is the possible plus it could be for his career. But with time he (along with people all across the U.S.) comes to care about the welfare of the beleaguered beasts.
Thus, Big Miracle clearly communicates that people can look past themselves and make the right choices if they’re able to find a just cause. And speaking of causes, I should note that a lot of the credit for Adam’s change in heart goes to his ex-girlfriend Rachel. She’s an impassioned Greenpeace volunteer who tends to go a little overboard in her grandstanding approach to, well, just about everything. And most people see her as a radical. But she’s more than a little useful in this case, almost singlehandedly shaming the state’s governor into getting the Coast Guard involved in a rescue attempt—an effort that eventually reaches all the way up to the White House.
Rachel also notices that the baby of the whale family is having difficulty surfacing for air. And she does everything in her personal power to help the struggling animal.
Rachel and the owner of a large oil company have their run-ins, but in the end they work together to help the whales. At a key juncture she tells him, “You’re not as easy to hate as I thought.” He replies, “You’re not either.” And as interest in the story grows, and more and more reporters swarm Barrow, people around the world start going out of their way to help. A group of local whalers work day and night to cut breathing holes in the ice. And the crew of a Russian ship smash through an ice wall on behalf of the oversized swimmers.
[Spoiler Warning] Nathan, the son of an Inupiat leader, mentions that his grandfather has a number of prayers he prays for the whales. And after the baby whale dies, Grandfather does indeed lift up an Inupiat prayer for the fallen animal in a sort of communal funeral service.
A crass reference to Rachel having a “big pair,” due to her gumption. A woman is deemed “hot.” Rachel and Adam linger over a kiss.
The California grays have to keep butting their snouts against the quickly freezing ice to maintain an open area to breathe. With time we see how the ice has taken its toll in the form of scrapes, gouges and cuts into the animals’ flesh. At the beginning of the film we watch an Inupiat whaler hurl a harpoon toward one huge creature’s flank. (We don’t see the impact.)
A dozen uses of “h‑‑‑”; a half-dozen uses of “d‑‑n.” Someone says “S.O.B.” We hear “b‑‑tard” and “jacka‑‑” once each, along with two or three exclamations of “holy crap.” There are a handful of interjections of “oh my god” and “by god.”
A dispirited reporter sits at a table with five empty mini-bottles of booze scattered in front of her. She is obviously inebriated. Several Russians toast with glasses of vodka.
Much to his grandfather’s chagrin, Nathan tries to take advantage of the visiting reporters, charging up to $40 for small pieces of cardboard (used for standing on the ice).
According to Big Miracle’s makers, their tale was a whale of a news item back in 1988. The plight of those ice-bound grays are reported to have impacted vote-seeking politicians, greedy oilmen and chest-thumping nature lovers the world over. And I do actually remember the event. But a deluge of news has crashed down on top of us since then, and I may actually be in the minority 20-some years later. Most folks have probably long forgotten the three whales named Fred, Wilma and Bam-Bam.
That’s OK, though. In fact, it might actually help make this Hollywood-ized love-the-whales movie with its sweeping score and Free Willy proportions more fun. Certainly more fresh-feeling. Its characters are likeable. It lauds the inventiveness of the human spirit, points to the value of animal life and challenges the cynic in all of us.
Unfortunately, there’s one inescapable sinkhole in this frozen yarn of leviathan struggles and icy determination. For some reason the filmmakers thought it appropriate to include volleys of foul language throughout. And so families are assailed by earfuls of ugly human sounds no discerning whale worth his fluke would ever make.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.