In 1993, Jerry Shepard (Walker) is a guide at an Antarctica research base under contract with the National Science Foundation. UCLA professor, Dr. Davis McClaren (Greenwood) arrives at the base and presses Shepard to take him to Mount Melbourne to attempt to find a rare meteorite from Planet Mercury. Shepard does so against his own intuition, which tells him that it is too late in the season (January) to complete such a treacherous route. Worried about the snowmobiles breaking through the thinning ice or falling in a crevasse, Shepard tells his boss and McClaren that the only way to get to Mount Melbourne is by dog sled.
Shepard and McClaren make it to Mount Melbourne but are immediately called back to base camp due to an approaching storm. McClaren begs for some time, and Shepard gives him half a day. McClaren finds what he was looking for and the two head back to the sled.
Shepard pauses to patch up one of the dogs (Old Jack) whose paw is bleeding. McClaren, while walking around to get a better radio connection with base, slides down an embankment when a soft ledge gives way. His landing at the bottom cracks the thin ice and McClaren ends up breaking through. Shepard is able to get his lead dog Maya to take a rope to McClaren and the dog team pulls him from the water.
Now, as they battle hypothermia, frostbite and near whiteout conditions, Shepard and McClaren have to rely on the dogs' stamina and keen sense of direction to get them back to base. The injured people are immediately evacuated, along with all other personnel, due to the storm, which is expected to intensify. With too much weight in the plane to carry both people and dogs, the human team medically evacuates Shepard and McClaren with a plan to return later for the dogs. The dogs are temporarily left behind, but the storm is worse than expected and it soon becomes apparent that no rescue will be attempted until the next spring.
Back at home, Shepard is guilt-ridden about leaving his dogs, and stops working as an Antarctic-conditions guide. Five months later, and after a heart-to-heart session with an older, veteran guide, Shepard decides to throw his all into rescuing the dogs. Before leaving for the trip, Shepard patches things up with McClaren, and tells him about his intentions to rescue the dogs. McClaren learns that Shepard does not have enough money to pay for the trip, but tells him that he cannot help him. Soon afterwards, McClaren sees a drawing of the dog team made by his young son, with the title: "My Hero is... THE DOGS WHO SAVED MY DADDY." McClaren realizes the magnitude of his ingratitude and uses the remaining balance of his grant money to finance a rescue mission.
The Dogs' Story
Four days after the dogs were left at base camp, they eventually break free of their chains, except for Old Jack and Max. Eleven days later, Max finally breaks free, but Old Jack, who's too old to go with the others on their journey, dies at the base camp. The dogs now begin hunting seals, sea gulls, and penguins in order to keep from starving. However, one night whilst looking at the southern lights, one of the dogs, Dewey, falls off a steep slope and is fatally injured. The dogs show their affection for their teammate, but eventually have to move on. The youngest dog, Max, stays with Dewey a little longer and is separated from the rest.
Max finds his way back to where McClaren fell into the ice earlier and spots a dead Orca. He eats from it until he is attacked by a nearby leopard seal that fiercely guards its meal. The other dogs also find their way to the dead Orca and Max gets the leopard seal's attention so the rest can eat. But the leopard seal quickly sees what's happening, bites Maya on the leg and nearly kills her. Max and the other dogs fiercely chase him off. Maya manages to survive, but her leg is seriously injured.
The rest of the pack continue to hunt for food. Maya refuses food brought for her, and gives pack leadership to Max, who has shown bravery, leadership and compassion.
The dogs manage to find their way close to the base camp where Shepard and his rescue team are arriving. Shepard and the five dogs have a happy reunion. When Shepard gets ready to go in the car to leave, Max refuses to go. Max leads Jerry to the injured Maya, and he is able to rescue her as well. The final scene shows a grave for Old Jack and Dewey.
Paul Walker as Jerry Shepard
Bruce Greenwood as Dr. Davis McClaren
Moon Bloodgood as Katie
Jason Biggs as Charlie Cooper
Gerard Plunkett as Dr. Andy Harrison
August Schellenberg as Mindo
Wendy Crewson as Eve McClaren
Belinda Metz as Dr. Rosemary Paris
Connor Christopher Levins as Eric McClaren
Duncan Fraser as Captain Lovett
Dan Ziskie as Navy Commander
Michael David Simms as Armin Butler
Daniel Bacon as Bureaucrat #2
Laara Sadiq as Bureaucrat #3
Malcolm Stewart as Charles Buffett
- Directed by Frank Marshall
- Produced by Patrick Crowley, David Hoberman
- Screenplay by David DiGillio
- Music by Mark Isham
- Cinematography Don Burgess
- Editing by Christopher Rouse
- Studio Spyglass Entertainment, Mandeville Films, Kennedy/Marshall, Winking Productions
- Distributed by Walt Disney Pictures
- Release date: February 17, 2006
- Running time 120 minutes
- Country United States
- Language English
- Budget $40 million
- Box office $120,455,994
The 1958 ill-fated Japanese expedition to Antarctica inspired the 1983 hit film Nankyoku Monogatari. Eight Below is the adaptation of the events of the 1958 incident moved forward to 1993. Dog teams were removed from the ice in February 1994. In the 1958 event, fifteen Sakhalin Husky sled dogs were abandoned when the expedition team was unable to return to the base. When the team returned a year later, two dogs were still alive. Another seven were still chained up and dead, and six unaccounted for.
In Eight Below there are two Alaskan Malamutes (Buck and Shadow) and six Siberian Huskies (Maya, Max, Truman, Dewey, Shorty and Old Jack). Each actor-dog had help from other dogs that performed stunts and pulled sleds. In all, over 30 dogs were used to portray the film's eight canine characters. Max, Maya, Dewey and Buck (Old Jack's stunt double) were played by dogs seen in Disney's Snow Dogs.
Reviews were generally positive. Roger Ebert from Chicago Sun-Times liked the film, and said "Eight Below succeeds as an effective story." BBC liked the movie as well, but did not like its long length (2 hours).Reel.com liked it, saying "the movie succeeds at drawing you into their incredible adventure". However, the San Francisco Chronicle disliked the film, saying "The movie is overly long and much too intense for small children, yet it's filled with dialogue and plot turns that are too juvenile to thrill adult audiences." William Arnold of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reacted favorably ("the dog actors will melt your heart"), but pointed out, as did other reviewers, that "Antarctica buffs" will be critical of errors, such as portraying midwinter events occurring in "balmy, blazing daylight at a time Antarctica is locked in round-the-clock darkness and temperatures of 140 degrees below."
The review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reported that 72% of critics gave the film a positive review, based on 146 reviews."
According to Box Office Mojo, the film opened at #1 on February 17, 2006, with a total weekend gross of $20,188,176 in 3,066 theaters, averaging to about $6,584 per theater. The film closed on June 1, 2006 with a total worldwide gross of $120,453,565 ($81,612,565 domestic and $38,841,000 overseas).
ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards: ASCAP Award, Top Box Office Films (Mark Isham) 2007.
Satellite Awards: Satellite Award, Best Youth DVD, 2006.