Admiral Makarov and California Grey Whales
Just like Charlie Rose, I am putting my disclaimer up front. For a few years, I worked for a polar expedition firm noted for its fleet of Russian vessels that included two icebreakers. My review of Big Miracle, Drew Barrymore’s latest film, in general release today, will be coloured by my experience and passion for the polar regions.
Big Miracle: A movie about 3 whales, Point Barrow, Alaska; and prototypical characters
Inspired by a true story, the film recreates the events that unfolded in the 1980s in Point Barrow, Alaska, when 3 California grey whales were caged by ice. The whales were unable to start their 5,000 mile migration from the Arctic Ocean to Baja California, where they spend the winter. The small hole through which they were breathing was steadily growing smaller and smaller. Drowning was imminent. In a matter of days, the small-town Alaskan news story became an international sensation involving the President of the United States and a Russian icebreaker.
Ted Danson, Dermot Mulroney, Kristen Bell, and John Krasinski join Barrymore in a film produced by Working Title Films. Even Sarah Palin makes a small appearance in Big Miracle. This film was designed to engender an emotional response, while delivering less than subtle talking points about the need to protect oceans, the Alaska Wildlife Refuge and the traditional lifestyle of Alaska’s Eskimos. [Canadians do not use the term Eskimo, but Alaskan's do, so I have chosen to use it in reference to this film.]
I had the misfortune to attend a Friday matinee on a professional development day. The theatre was unexpectedly full of gaggles of school-age children and their chaperones. I was surprised there wasn’t more rustling than I experienced, because this “family” film has a lot of dialogue over the head of youngsters. There is a headphone wearing young Eskimo lad with a burning desire to leave Point Barrow for the outside world. The lad’s grandfather fights what appears to be a losing battle to teach his grandson about whales and the traditions of his people.
The real Russian icebreaker that came to the rescue of the whales was the Sorokin-class Admiral Makarov. In the film, the icebreaker, her name blacked out, is played [She is a character to me.] by 50 Years of Victory, Russia’s largest nuclear-powered icebreaker. The footage of Victory breaking the ice was digitally enhanced and totally inaccurate. Neither Makarov or Victory would have been sailed head-long into a pressure ridge. Hey, but this is not a documentary, but a fictional recreation. If you know anything about gear and icebreakers and life in the North, you’ll find much to mutter about.
I enjoyed the film because I loved seeing Victory on the big screen crushing through ice about 5 degrees from the North Pole. I was aboard her maiden voyage to the North Pole, during which the raw footage was shot. Only small pieces remain as they have been manipulated to suit the story. The Bridge of the icebreaker as depicted was too small for either icebreaker. But the humour portrayed and their rugged independence was true to the character of the Russian icebreaker captains I have had the privilege of knowing.
The one word that came to mind as the credits rolled was earnest. This is a film about the importance of being earnest.