"Big Miracle" is based on the 1989 non-fiction book, Freeing the Whales: How the Media Created the World's Greatest Non-Event by Tom Rose, which in turn was based on the real-life events surrounding Operation Breakthrough. In the previous year, three gray whales became trapped by ice near the coastal town of Point Barrow, Alaska. The story went viral before there ever was such a thing as news programs across the country picked it up. Universal's "Big Miracle" is the largely fictionalized version of the international efforts to rescue these poor creatures.
John Krasinski stars as Adam Carlson, a news reporter in Barrow with aspirations of moving on up to bigger markets in the lower 48 states. He's the first to report on a family of whales, who have been nicknamed Fred, Wilma, and Bamm Bamm. The baby isn't Pebbles because he's a boy, you see. The whales are surrounded by ice and will die if they don't get free. When everybody from Tom Brokaw to Dan Rather run Adam's story, Barrow is flooded with journalists and folks from all walks of life hoping to lend a hand. Most of them have their own selfish reasons for joining in.
Oil executive J.W. McGraw (Ted Danson), who sees the rescue as good P.R. and a gateway to open a wildlife refuge for drilling. White House aide Kelly Myers (Vinessa Shaw) looks to polish the legacy of the Reagan administration while building momentum for a run by Vice-President Bush. Both have tasked Col. Scott Boyer (Dermot Mulroney) of the National Guard to tow a hover barge from one of McGraw's stations via helicopter. Boyer is just following orders and doesn't care much about the whales, especially since they aren't killer whales. One of the few to contribute out of the goodness of her own heart is Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore), a Greenpeace activist and Adam's former girlfriend. Soon, the townsfolk, the people of the Inupiat tribe, and even the Russians form an unlikely alliance to save the trio of whales.
"Big Miracle" comes to us from director Ken Kwapis, who previously helmed the ensemble rom-com "He's Just Not That Into You" and the tween-lit adaptation "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants," is used to juggling a myriad of storylines. He does so again to the detriment of "Big Miracle," which is bogged down by too many superfluous subplots. There's a love triangle brewing between Adam, Rachel, and a big city reporter played by Kristen Bell as well as another love story involving Col. Boyer and Kelly Myers. Newcomer Ahmaogak Sweeney appears as an Inupiat boy named Nathan. His narration bookends the film, but he's a minor character at best.
Screenwriters Jack Amiel and Michael Berger have drawn their cast of characters in very broad strokes. Everyone is earnest and one-dimensional. John Krasinski fares the worst. The funnyman from "The Office" is a white bread bore as the lead protagonist. Ted Danson's oil exec seems as if he's mainly there as a counterpoint to the all the conservative pundits complaining about the portrayal of big business in films such as "The Muppets" and "The Lorax." On the other hand, Drew Barrymore's Rachel represents all the worst of stereotypes of the granola munching eco-movement. She's a heartfelt firebrand, but also pedantic and myopic. She's more than willing to pain the Inupiat tribe as a bunch of whale slaughtering backwoods barbarians. According to the film, they're merely salt of the earth (or snow) people ready to dispense sage advice when necessary to plot advancement.
The true miracle of "Big Miracle" is the wealth of supporting actors that work diligently to keep the picture from completely sinking into the icy depths. Stephen Root plays the Alaskan governor, who is initially dismissive of the whale rescue until it captures the public eye. John Michael Higgins is funny as a smarmy anchorman. Rob Riggle and James LeGros are highlights as a pair of brothers from Minnesota, who arrive with a de-icing machine of their own invention. It's as if they made a wrong turn on their way to the set of "Fargo." Also, be on the look out for Kathy Baker, Bruce Altman, Shea Whigham, Jonathan Slavin, and Tim Blake Nelson.
The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The transfer is pristine with bold colors and natural skin tones. The powder white of the snow comes off really well and you can notice fine details like the actors' breath and the snowflakes on their faces.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1. "Big Miracle" features some surprisingly buoyant sound from helicopters, blistering winds, chainsaws, and the calls of the whales.
Director Ken Kwapis provides an audio commentary track for his film. Though his delivery is dry, Kwapis offers a wealth of info, such as the real-life inspirations for the characters, the story's themes, and good old movie magic.
A Big Miracle in Alaska (21:06) is a behind-the-scenes featurette looking at how they recreated the Barrow of 1988 and building the animatronic whales.
Truth is Stranger Than Fiction (12:08) is a featurette about the real life events and the media frenzy that followed.
Rounding out the bonus features is a collection of deleted scenes with intros by the director.
"Big Miracle" comes on a flipper disc with the Blu-ray on one side and the DVD on the other. You'll also get a download code for Digital Copy and Ultraviolet versions of the film.
"Big Miracle" was released in February during the blasé months of the Hollywood release schedule where it earned a paltry $24.7 million worldwide. Perhaps, the world has grown too cynical for a simplistic, heartwarming tale about whales. Is there anything miraculous to be found in "Big Miracle?" No, but it is wholesome, family-friendly entertainment.