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March 25, 2006

Eight Below

Okay. Where do I start? And watch out--once I get started I just might not stop.

Right. It's Disney, and it's not a true story ("Inspired by..." it said in the opening credits, or, as a friend of mine put it, it's 'based a fictional account of a true story'), so I can expect it to be simple and inaccurate. But still.

Reading this doesn't mean you can't like it, but just don't take an impression of how things work in the U.S. Antarctic Program from it.

~The Facts and Follies, According to Beth~

1) This is a major buzz-kill, but THERE ARE NO DOGS IN ANTARCTICA. Hard to stomache, I know. Far as I could tell, the story took place in quite modern times (Burton tee-shirt, "Dude," and such). Yet an addition to the Antarctic Treaty (treaty between nations with interests in Antarctica) in 1984 bans dogs from the continent because of a fear that the dogs could transmit distemper to the seals. The New Zealand program at Scott Base (near McMurdo) pulled the last of their dogs out in 1986. The Brittish held out until the bitter end, and pulled out in 1993, the latest time allowed by the treaty. To my knowledge (which could be wrong on this one), the U.S. Antarctic Program has never used dogs. [Turns out we did, briefly, in the late '50s. Check out the comment posted by Bernie Gunn, below.]

2) I've read a review or two stating that there would be less and more darkness, respectively, during the summer (January) and winter (July) scenes. Understatement. There would be NO darkness in January and NO light in July. Sorry dogs.

3) At this latitude in the winter, the dogs would be *very* hard-pressed to find anything edible, except, as in the one scene, in food stashes left by people. If the dogs had stumbled upon an emperor penguin (March of the Penguins type) rookery, they would have been set. Emperors *do* live on land through the winter. But the nearest emperor penguin rookery is pretty far from where the dogs were, on the other side of Ross Island, and I guess having the dogs kill penguins wouldn't have gone over so well... (Although they could have eaten carcasses of the ones that died on their journey to or from the sea... that could have worked maybe.) In the true story from which this was inspired, 2 out of 9 dogs apparently did survive a winter. I haven't read up to say for sure, but I think that those dogs were at a significantly higher latitude, probably on the Antarctic Peninsula, which is a different animal. So to speak. The climate is much warmer and there is more plant and animal life, including actual vegetation.

4) The bar they met up in in Christchurch, New Zealand, wasn't actually Bailey's--I've been there. (I know, lame, but I couldn't resist. I could be wrong, too, but it didn't *look* like Bailey's. And I should know. I've had Irish car bombs there. In fact, my friend Shawn and I had to tell them how to make them.) And no way are there people there trying to find a cheap ride south in the winter. Not even in the summer. That's just not what happens.

5) Just so you know--yes, Antarctica really IS that stunning. But this was filmed in Canada, Greenland, and Norway. Also stunning places. I don't know if the footage of Mt. Melbourne was actually Mt. Melbourne--I haven't been there. The McMurdo footage (McMurdo General Hospital) was obtained from a group that was down on the ice several years ago shooting a documentary on underwater life (Norbert Wu Productions--see Under Antarctic Ice (shoot, is that what it's called?). It's great.).

6) Nobody from the USAP summers in Astoria. Okay, just kidding.

7) Out of curisosity--why did our hero's patch on his jacket say Canada? And what was that outline on it--Australia?

8) Those were some pretty lame chains holding the dogs.

9) Back to Antarctic facts. The depiction of how NSF (National Science Foundation) operates was misleading. Jack (dog guy) would have known there was no way to get down to the area before McMurdo opened again for the summer--not via NSF, anyway, not even with a high-powered scientist making the calls. Nuh-uh. The program is much too strict for that. The logistics are intensive. Icebreakers (ships which break the sea ice) only head south through McMurdo Sound once a year, in late December / early January, to break a channel for the supply vessels. This is a very expensive undertaking.

10) There are no, or at least very few, leopard seals in McMurdo Sound. Watch out for those guys on the other side of the continent. McMurdo Sound is home to Weddell seals, which are big blobs of cuddly disinterest. That may be a bit of an exaggeration, but they are big, and they are in general pretty mild-mannered.

11) The National Science award ceremony. Have you even seen a group of scientists? Have you even seen a group of scientists in *formal wear*? Yeah, whatever, Disney. Not likely.

Okay, I have some other things, but I'll leave it at that. Feel free to comment. And yes, I did enjoy the movie. Kind of. There was that simple part... So I'll say I liked some parts of the movie. Yeah, yeah, I teared up a time or two. The dogs were impressive.

Posted by beth at March 25, 2006 10:37 PM

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well, i was curious of what you would think of "eight below". now i know! i found the inaccuracies on antarctica distracting from a good old dog story. thank you for setting "the facts" straight!

Posted by: wilma - mother of beth at March 26, 2006 1:00 AM

Hello Beth,
I did not see the movie but saw some shorts. Yes the USAP did have a couple of dog teams in 1955-57. They were light weight dogs from New Elngland in charge of Don Tuck and Dave Baker and Tom MacEvoy who has spent a dozen winters in Thule mainly in Greenland. Don was in charge of the Pole Staion over winter in 1956. We sledged up from the ice-edge near Cape Bird to Hut point in 1955. I was attached to them as a sort of rescue uint becaue the helos of the day could not land about about 2-3000 ft, so if a plane crashed we were supposed to rescue them. I did get asked to "stand by" occasionally but nothing happened.
The dogs in the movie were malemutes from Alaska, a quite different breed and there never have been any in the Antarctic. One of Scotts dogs was lost and turned up months later having been probably feeding on penguins. Dogs running loose in summer would do OK but in winter there are not many Emperor rookeries.
The dogd were the best transport there ever was, we did about 2-3000 miles per team in 2 summers, the operating costs were a block of pemmican a day.
How like a bureaucrat to claim that they could give distemper to seals. On what evidence??
Bernie Gunn

Posted by: Bernie Gunn at March 26, 2006 5:38 AM


"8) Those were some pretty lame chains holding the dogs."

best line of your post

yeah the movie is a little weak, but when I see "Inspired" it is all open to artistic vision of the writer/director

Posted by: Derek at March 26, 2006 6:04 AM

plea for help...the dogs acutally mated on their long journey giving rise to the only indigent pack of dogs on the continent. apparently the inbreeding and harsh conditions have caused a microevolution event making the modern animals highly intelligent and ferociously aggressive. as i write, all mcmurdo and scott base personel have barricaded the doors and boarded the windows. we are under siege. they already gotten two fleet ops operators and a GA lost a foot before being pulled to safety. please send help and a good screenplay writer for the sequal. oh, and tad wants matt damon to play him. the dogs were last seen headed for the communication satellite relay. if we lose that, we are cut off. in case i don't make it tell my fami

Posted by: matto at March 26, 2006 9:29 PM

Bethie -

The Norbert Wu Production, for Nova, is indeed called "Under Antarctic Ice" -- and it's one of my favorites, and well worth watching.

Matt...I recommend pacifying the pack of crazed Ice hounds with heaps of tasty blazin' redfish...but if that doesn't work, my best to you and all my pals down there. Incidentally, I think Matt Damon is a perfect choice for Tad -- do you want Ben Affleck to play you?

Posted by: lisa g at March 27, 2006 5:06 PM

Posted by: valerie jaspin at March 31, 2006 9:16 PM

Lisa and were thinking of you as we watched the movie. and yes we both teared up a couple of times.. we Knew their was a lot of artistic license taken with this one. but we did enjoy it all the same.. we are leaving for alaska in july. Lisa and I will be working in Barrow. for a short cool 3 months Keep an eye on our web site for updates.

take care
Rob and Lisa

Posted by: ROBERT OMSTEAD at April 9, 2006 4:37 PM

Talking about the red jacket...can you please tell me what make it is (maybe if it is Canadian that would be easier)? I really love the style and would like to buy one for my husband.
Any info would much appreciated.

Posted by: jolie at August 9, 2006 5:39 PM


Its just a movie, as the boys at Monty Python would say, and while 'inspired' by true events, it is a bit of a reach. I liked Norberts footage the best, I wrote to him about it and he said he would rush out and see the movie...

They did get the Haaglund right though...


Posted by: Brian at August 10, 2006 1:24 AM

Are you going to make another Eight Below? I think that would be cool. Luv the first one!

Posted by: Jessie at October 2, 2006 8:51 PM

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