Any film with the line “because whales can’t vote, right?” un-ironically delivered in a strangled cry by a Greenpeace fanatic at The Establishment to the sound of quavering violins is dicing with cinematic death.
And when this staid “tree-hugger” stereotype is played by a sincere and irritating Drew Barrymore, alongside the obligatory goofy love interest, a wide-eyed local news reporter (played by John Krasinski of The Office), we know the age of miracles is past.
Based on – or rather, shamelessly violating – a true story, Big Miracle tells of the media circus surrounding three whales trapped in the ice on the Alaskan coast in 1988. With ice stretching to the sea too far for them to swim beneath without oxygen, the whales must use a small hole in the ice to breathe, which is rapidly freezing over. Yep, I’m afraid you’re in for a heart-warming saga about majestic animals in distress. War Horse, eat your heart out. And then we can use you for glue.
A small-town reporter, Adam Carlson, who is finishing his ‘Adam Around Alaska’ series, an unsophisticated paint-by-numbers comic device (“Holy Guacamole, they have avocados in Alaska!” has you hoping he’ll choke on his jalapeno), for a local TV station breaks the story, and it hits the national press. Journalists flock. Cue lots of ‘80s broadcasting kitsch – Olympiette typewriters, cassette recorders, video reels, stereos – all conspicuously used throughout, screaming: “hey, you beady-eyed film viewers! This is set in the ‘80s! We’ve even got some props to prove it!”
The actual story is not one to be dismissed. Alaskan tribesfolk, journalists, environmentalists, oil tycoons and even the Regan Administration, who had all previously been warring and raging against each other – “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the boom of the economy”, someone wry from the government quips to the po-faced Greenpeace gal at some point – all did eventually work together in an attempt to save the whales, whether sincerely or for PR purposes. An incredible and quirky news piece dug up from the archives by the film’s creators.
But tragically, evil, gargantuan oil barrels of crude sentimentalism seem to have spewed onto the film reel, and all we get is lots of sickly saccharine camaraderie, earnest eco-loving and, of course, some pseudo-psychology: “Even though they’re big and powerful, the whales are vulnerable. They are just like us; we get scared too.” Yeah. Scared of ever entering a cinema again.
This is more like the Big Oversight; the “miracle” here seeming to be a glaringly obvious opportunity missed to satirise the world of journalism, and to maximise laughs using the hilarious real-life resolution to the crisis – calling in the Soviets. What America’s most influential right and left-wingers endearingly united couldn’t resolve was fixed in a matter of seconds by a huge incongruous Soviet Icebreaker, smashing through the barrier. Mr Gorbachev, tear down this icy pressure ridge. A minor but entertaining easing of Cold War tensions, they could’ve at least named the film “The Thaw”.