“The avocado, this little guy, and pretty much everything else in town, has to take four separate plane rides to arrive up here, in Chili, Barrow, Alaska.”
That’s the first catchy line I remembered from the trailer of “Big Miracle”. A fan of drama, I am easily touched by portrayal of kindness and compassion towards other God’s creatures. In fact, that’s exactly why the trailer of the “Big Miracle” managed to entice me searching for the film. Seeing Drew Barrymore playing a role of a Green Peace activist, expressing her empathy to the three whales stuck in the Alaskan ice saying, “Even though they’re big and powerful, they’re so much like us.We’re vulnerable. We get scared. We need help sometimes too,” I was touched before even watching the whole story.
I waited for almost two months till “Big Miracle” became finally downloadable, making me wonder if it was actually worth-seeing. You know, if a movie is popular, even its least watchable version will be available as soon as it is played in cinemas. So, having had to ask many stores and browsed around for some time led me questioning, “What’s so miraculously big about it? Am I sure I want to see the movie?”
One night, when I had put the idea of seeing the movie behind me, my husband told me that he had got it for me. I was surprised though no longer enthusiastic about it. But, to appreciate my husband’s effort to please me, one day, I watched it anyway.
Honestly, at the end, I considered the movie just “OK” that I couldn’t be bothered to share any excitement about what I just saw. To me, it was a 6 out of 10 – I didn’t like the cast ensemble much and thought that the storyline could be more developed.
The story began when Adam, a newscaster stationed in the small town of Barrow, Alaska, did his final shot of coverage in favour of a young, local friend. While filming on ice, he accidentally captured water spouting from a distance. He approached the location only to find a family of three whales taking turn to breath from the little, rectangular hole on the ice. Apparently they had been trapped there, due to the rapid formation of ice in that extreme weather.
As Adam’s whale story was broadcast all over the US, it gained interest from the Green Peace activist, Rachel (played by Drew Barrymore) that she pushed her way through government and personal connections for necessary assistance that would help the whales. Several parties lent their helping hands for various ulterior motives – a corporate oil-mining boss eager to drill new holes in the Alaskan regions, a governor desiring to get re-elected, a president looking to gain his people’s sympathy, and an army captain in no assignment but wondering why the heck he got involved into this!
To cut the whole story short, they basically worked together, creating pathway holes that would lead the whales into the open ocean. With a climax of the US asking help from a nearby Russian ship to break through the ice barrier, Fred and Wilma – the father and mother whales – managed to safely swim into the ocean. To increase the dramatic effect, casualty was of course unavoidable. The injured Bambam, the young whale, didn’t make it. Although at the end, the entire assisting parties did rejoice for the success.
Perhaps just like any other drama, it was the working together that made amend between ex-lovers, between environmentalists and mining investors, between government and the people. It was a typical ending, I would say.
Nevertheless, there is one aspect of the movie I treasured most and wished to have been further explored. It was the lifestyle of the Alaskan natives – their day-to-day chores, social system, and their relationship with the whales.
As much as I was fascinated with the fact that a Mexican restaurant was setup there, I was completely amused to how rare simple batteries were accessible and how quickly generators died out in those extreme cold. With scarcity of foods, the locals hunted killer whales for survival, and the fact that the trapped whale news amplified to the whole world presented them a considerable dilemma. “No doubt they weren’t killer whales, but they’d soon die anyway. So, why not kill them for food? It would help remove their suffering anyway,” most natives thought.
Fortunate were they to have a much wise leader, who despite his preference of killing the whales, had considered the potential positive outcome of doing otherwise. With the news escalating rapidly across continents, their village had been under the spotlight. Reporters flew in to the area, fully-occupying the very few motels around. Killing the whales with the whole world watching wouldn’t be a great idea as it would only create animosity towards them. Moreover, they might be subjected to the United Nation’s sanction, banning them from whale-hunting. “How would they survive?” the wise man deliberated.
The movie portrayed a unique struggle within a tribe who was trying to retain their traditions and values in face of modernity and globalisation. They were forced to accept that their unique cultures, although performed purely for survival, might be considered irrevent and even cursed by others alien to their living conditions.
A wise grandfather fathomed by his wanna-be modernised grandson had also intrigued my curiosity of wanting more from the duo. As much as grandpa tried to teach lessons and instill values to his grandson, he couldn’t help to wonder where and what his grandson would be in the next few years growing up. Constantly listening to his battery-thirst headset and being excited with pop rock bands, the grandson could only wonder how the world is beyond Alaska. His aspiration to go out might have been the reason grandpa shook his head, taking a deep breath, perplexed to what might happen to his tradition in future.
Here, I couldn’t stop smiling watching how grandpa, as the best portrait of the old tradition, taught the young boy to listen to what the whales might have to say, how he sang beautiful whale songs to calm them down, or to bid them goodbyes. I loved seeing this sensitive part of the culture so much that I wished to have more of it!
I recalled the “Whale Rider”, a 2002 movie of almost similar nature but of more significance in terms of development of storyline, cultural exploration and character evolution, and concluded that “Big Miracle” was still below its rating, regardless of all the famous actors taking part in the production. However, for movie fans out there, it may still be a tolerable entertainment.