In 1993, Jerry Shepard is a guide at an Antarctica research base under contract with the National Science Foundation. UCLA professor, Dr. Davis McClaren, arrives at the base. He presses Shepard to take him to Mount Melbourne to find a rare meteorite from Mercury. Shepard decides that the only way to get to Mount Melbourne is by dog sled.
Shepard and McClaren make it to Mount Melbourne, but are called back to base camp due to an approaching heavy storm. McClaren begs for more time, and Shepard gives him half a day, which is enough time to find a fragment of the meteorite. En route back to base, McClaren slips down an embankment, breaking his leg and falling into freezing water. Shepard uses the lead dog Maya to carry a rope to McClaren and pulls him out. The two battle hypothermia, frostbite and near whiteout conditions as the dogs lead them home. Once there, the entire human crew is immediately evacuated, while the dogs are left behind. Certain that their pilot will return within days for the dogs, Shepard tightens their collars to ensure they cannot get loose and run away. But because of the harsh weather conditions, no rescue can be attempted until the next spring - and by then the dogs will be dead.
Back at home, Shepard tries to secure a plane to return and save the dogs, but no one is willing to finance the risky expedition. Five months later, Shepard makes one last attempt to get back. McClaren realizes the magnitude of his ingratitude and uses the remaining balance of his grant money to finance a rescue mission. Shepard acknowledges that there is almost no chance that any of the dogs have survived this long, but he owes it to his team to go back for them.
After being left behind, the eight sled dogs – lead dog Maya, Old Jack, Shorty, Dewey, Truman, Shadow, Buck, and the young Max, wait in the freezing conditions for Shepard to return. After two weeks without eating, they free themselves to forage for food, except Old Jack who remains attached to the chain. Some time later, Dewey slips and falls down an incline, where he is fatally injured. The team stays with his body until morning, but have to leave. In the blizzard, Max becomes separated from the group. Maya manages to lead the team to the Russian base, which is unsecured and full of food, while Max finds his way back to the American base, which is still locked and abandoned. Setting back out into the wilderness, Max finds the carcass of a dead Orca, but is driven off by a leopard seal. Maya and the team are nearby, and Max lures the seal away so the team can eat. It doubles back and attacks Maya, who is badly injured when it claps its reptile-like maw onto her paw. The team, now reunited, continue traveling. They are starving, freezing and exhausted, and eventually the injured Maya collapses into the snow. The dogs lie down beside their leader as the snow piles up around them. They have been on their own for nearly six months.
Shepard makes it back to base and is dismayed to find the body of Old Jack, still attached to the chain, and no sign of the other dogs. He hears the sound of barking and sees Max, Shorty, Truman, Shadow and Buck come over the horizon. After a joyous reunion, Shepard attempts to load the dogs into the snowmobile, but Max runs off, with Shepard in hot pursuit. Max leads him to Maya, lying in the snow – weak, but alive. With six of his eight sled dogs in tow, Shepard heads back to civilization.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 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
The 1958 ill-fated Japanese expedition to Antarctica inspired the 1983 hit film Antarctica, of which Eight Below is a remake. Eight Below adapts the events of the 1958 incident, moved forward to 1993. 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, five were unaccounted for, and one died just outside Showa Station.
The film was dedicated to the memory of Koreyoshi Kurahara, the director of Antarctica, who died four years before it was released.
In Eight Below there are two Alaskan Malamutes (Buck and Shadow) and six Siberian Huskies (Max, Maya, 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. The animal filming was supervised by the American Humane Association, and the film carries the standard "No animals were harmed..." disclaimer, despite an on-set incident in which a trainer used significant force to break up an animal fight.
On the review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes the film has a rating of 72%, based on 146 reviews. The site's critical consensus reads, "Featuring a stellar cast of marooned mutts, who deftly display emotion, tenderness, loyalty and resolve, Eight Below is a heartwarming and exhilarating adventure film." Roger Ebert from Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3 out of 4 stars, 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."
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).
WinsASCAP Film and Television Music Awards: ASCAP Award, Top Box Office Films (Mark Isham) 2007.
NominationsSatellite Awards: Satellite Award, Best Youth DVD, 2006.
The film was released on separate format widescreen and full screen editions on DVD on June 20, 2006. It was also released on PlayStation Portable (an original widescreen format) on June 26, 2006. The film was released on high definition Blu-ray for an original widescreen presentation on September 19, 2006.