Big Miracle

7 02 2012

If you’re the kind of person who would jump at the chance to save a whale, then Big Miracle is the perfect movie for you.

Inspired by true events, Big Miracle tells the story of a family of whales that become trapped under the ice near the frozen town of Barrow, Alaska in 1988. As the hole in the ice shrinks, locals frantically put together a rescue effort.

But can’t whales hold their breath for a long time? Can’t they just bash through the ice using their powerful flukes and fins? Apparently, gray whales are relatively fragile, and are more accustomed to the warm waters of the Baja peninsula than the bitter cold of Alaska, which means that it’s up to humans to save them.


Leading the rescue effort is Adam (John Krasinski), a young reporter who wants to leave boring Alaska for warmer, more exciting cities in the lower 48 states. Joining him is his ex-girlfriend Rachel (Drew Barrymore), who volunteers for Greenpeace.

To break through the ice surrounding the whales, a massive barge is being towed from nearby Prudhoe Bay. In the meantime, local Inupiat people cut away at the ice with chainsaws to give the whales enough space to breathe.

Soon enough, the president of the United States gets involved, as well as a major oil tycoon. The motivations behind their involvement are clearly explained: the oil tycoon wants to improve his company’s image, while President Reagan wants to boost his Vice-President’s political campaign.

International media outlets also crowd around the small hole in the ice, and before long, the tiny town of Barrow becomes packed with cameras, trucks, snowmobiles, and supplies. It’s a massive rescue operation for just a few whales, but it’s an operation that everybody feels is important.

While Big Miracle has its moments, it never really takes off. The audience is led to believe that the community of Barrow is tight-knit, but we don’t see nearly enough of that in practice. Meanwhile, some of the characters can seem superficial, and it can be difficult to relate to anything going on.

Big Miracle isn’t perfect, but it’s still a decent movie to take your family to on a cold winter night. There are plenty of small, touching moments that will delight audiences. When Rachel dives under the ice for the first time, for example, we can’t help but feel her wonderment as she swims alongside the trapped whales.


There are also a few good laughs throughout, and the entire movie has a light-hearted air about it. While saving whales is serious business, the characters like to have fun while doing so.

Ultimately, the idea of this movie is good (who doesn’t like rescuing trapped wildlife?) but the execution feels heavy-handed. Dialogue can be downright silly at times, and director Ken Kwapis focuses too much on things that the audience doesn’t really care about.

I’m probably being too hard on Big Miracle. It obviously isn’t mean to be a stellar contribution to the world of film. Instead, it’s a carefree family drama that gently approaches some deep themes, and with enough content to keep both parents and children entertained, you could certainly do worse.

The movie makes the argument that ‘everybody loves whales’. By the time the credits roll, it’s hard to disagree with this statement. While it can be predictable and, at times, boring, there is still some magic to be found beneath the ice.

3 stars out of 5