Review: Big Miracle

Big Miracle (2012)
107 minutes
Rated – PG
Directed by Ken Kwapis
Starring: Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, John Pingayak


Grade:  B

I was a bit too young to remember the story about three California gray whales trapped under the ice off Barrow, Alaska in 1988, so the events that surrounded the “based on a true story” of Big Miracle were quite fascinating. Based on Thomas Rose’s “Freeing the Whales: How the Media Created the World’s Greatest Non-Event,” we become familiar with a number of players involved with the rescue attempt, including a Greenpeace organizer and the Alaskan citizens.

While these gigantic whales are certainly dangerous, wild mammals, there is rarely a moment when we feel threatened for the human characters on screen. This is a family-film after all, but even for a family film there is a sophistication throughout that might be too much for real young children. So what are you supposed to do when you discover three whales (including a baby) are trapped under ice? The Reagan administration sends the Alaskan National Guard to pull a hockey-rink-sized “ice-breaker”, hoping to clear a five-mile path from where the whales are to the ocean. Oh wait, there’s another problem: the weather is turning colder everyday and there is a large wall of ice that has formed blocking their planned route.

The story about these three whales started out as a small, local story but soon grew tremendously in coverage until it was being aired worldwide. In the film, there were a handful of big players involved including the Greenpeace organizer (Barrymore), her ex-boyfriend who broke the story (Krasinski), the wealthy oil-driller (Ted Danson) and the Los Angeles on-air reporter (Kristen Bell). What the film does very well is it never antagonizes any of the characters. Obviously, you’re rooting for Barrymore to complain her way until the whales are saved, but there is a real concern for the people who live nearby these whales who seriously considered killing the whales for food. While that might sound barbaric to some, the film is careful to portray them as good and kind people just trying to survive. The ocean is their garden and it’s very hard for them to walk away from such an opportunity.

There is always that feeling of a community united after a disaster strikes. Here, the concern for these whales bring everyone together, including two men with a de-icing device that travel a long way to lend their assistance. And when everything seemed bleak and impossible, there is an improbable hero that certainly makes an impact. The film is tasteful with a very good sense of pacing. Director Ken Kwapis juggles the many characters very well. One of the only things that doesn’t work well in Big Miracle is the chemistry between Barrymore and Krasinski. For exes, there was never a spark between the two of them and that was disappointing. But like they say, they had bigger fish to fry.


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