The “incredible true story” of three California gray whales trapped in ice in The Arctic Circle certainly has all the ingredients for a feel-good family film. But as with many of these types of pictures, they are often burdened with shallow characters and even shallower writing. Unfortunately “Big Miracle” falls well short of the potentially good subject matter. It’s yet another case of taking a surefire gimme of a story and completely missing the mark.
“Big Miracle” is a movie with a message but it also tries to play it both ways. Drew Barrymore stars as Rachal Kramer, a rather rabid Greenpeace environmentalist who is immediately drawn to the news story of three whales trapped in ice off the coast of Alaska. The story is reported by Adam Carlson (John Krasinski), a local reporter who hopes to use the story as a way to climb the TV journalism ladder. Rachel and Adam know each other and we learn that they have a history. Her more dogmatic approach to the whales’ plight clashes with his career boosting motivations and, as you will see coming a mile away, he must decide what’s more important, the lives of the whales or his own selfish ambitions.
We also get several stereotypical characters that Hollywood never gets tired of using. We get the blonde reporter who is beautiful but all about the story first. We get evil politicians who, by the film’s depiction, hates the whales and the environment and are only interested in fattening their pockets and increasing their approval ratings. We get a macho National Guardsman who is straight-laced and by the books and even a mean old oil executive. Oh, and throw in some local whale hunters and the obligatory “cute kid” to round things out. All of these people are brought to the light by our compassionate environmentalist heroine.
Now there’s nothing wrong with making a movie with characters who are environmentalists and there is certainly nothing wrong with making movies with a good message about taking care of the environment. Some movies have done it right, others bludgeon you to death with it (see “Avatar”). But in “Big Miracle”, Barrymore’s character is just whiny and grating. Now to be fair, the movie does try to show her as someone who doesn’t quite understand the big picture. The local Inupiat whale hunters make a case that hunting is their way of supporting their families. It provides food and other necessities. The movie uses a couple of scenes that attempts to show both sides of the argument. I don’t know if this was an honest attempt at representing all bodies of opinion or if it was just an attempt to not seem so heavy-handed with their main message. Either way the supposed friction between the two sides feels terribly contrived.
The movie also isn’t helped by some pretty lame dialogue. Rachel is constantly making overly dramatic and at times down right silly statements, my personal favorite being “Ronald Reagan killed the whales!” So many characters speak in ways that are true to the typical caricatures they portray. Throw in several of the gimmicks used with these types of movies and in the end you really don’t have anything that impressive or memorable.
“Big Miracle” does have a pretty amazing story at it’s core and to be fair you do get glimpses of it. The idea of people coming together from different viewpoints both environmentally and politically is certainly a good message. Also the movie does manage to keep you interested in the whales and whether or not they’ll survive their horrible predicament. While the ending offers no real surprise, it’s still fairly successful in packing a little emotional punch.
That being said, “Big Miracle” still has too many flaws to make it worth recommending. It feels like a film dedicated to an overused formula, a formula that quite frankly I’ve grown tired of. It’s also another example of a “family film” that still feels the need to slip in an assortment of profanities and even uses the always annoying ‘kid cursing’ attempt at humor. Throw in the cheesy dialogue, boring caricatures, and uneven direction and you have a movie that fails to execute even with the good story it has to work with.