Whales and people unite in the heart-centered, true life drama Big Miracle. Three California Gray Whales trapped in Alaskan ice prompted an international rescue effort in 1988 as Cold War tensions thawed.
The life and death struggle brought together activists, journalists, Inupiat Eskimos, an oil executive, the National Guard, Coast Guard and a Soviet icebreaker.
Ken Kwapis (The Office; He’s Just Not That Into You) directs this reunion with nature story. Perspectives of the East, West, indigenous culture and animals unite in a family-friendly tale. Big Miracle is based on the book Freeing the Whales by Thomas Rose.
A mother, father and baby whale (dubbed Wilma, Fred and Bam Bam) become trapped in rapidly forming ice in Barrow, Alaska. Unable to migrate south for the winter, they will drown without help.
The ocean is five miles away. Volunteers begin to cut breathing holes leading towards the open water. Most daunting is a deep ice wall at the shoreline.
Rachel confronts the Governor of Alaska (Stephen Root) and demands help. “There’s always something you can do,” she shouts. In a flurry of phone calls, she reaches across borders and cultures to seek assistance. Meanwhile families all over the world watch the whales on TV.
Barrymore’s driven and compassionate character is based on Cindy Lowry, Alaska representative for Greenpeace.
Native wisdom leads
Inupiat Eskimos meet to discuss the emergency. Most are ready to harvest the whales for food, a natural choice in the harsh climate. Inupiat elder Malik (John Pingayak in a great film debut) decides to relent to public opinion. As emotions run high, the Inupiat volunteer to help free the whales.
Rachel’s nemesis, oilman J. W. McGraw (Ted Danson), is indifferent until his wife (Kathy Baker) calls in an anonymous tip. McGraw may lend one of his barges if he can grab some good publicity.
Two Minneapolis brothers (Rob Riggle and James LeGros) arrive with their original ice-melting machine. To everyone’s relief, the device buys a few more precious days for the whales.
White House aide Kelly Meyers (Vinessa Shaw) calls a National Guard Colonel (Dermot Mulroney) to enlist him for a mercy mission. Meanwhile an ambitious Los Angeles news correspondent (Kristen Bell) arrives.
Leaders follow the people
Finally, President Ronald Reagan reaches out to Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev for help. “Gorby? It’s Ronnie.” A Russian icebreaker is dispatched.
Rachel talks with the whales as they surface for air. Gazing back, they seem to understand. “I think it’s part of the human spirit that has this connection with wildlife, with whales,” Lowry told DiscoveryNews.
Malik encourages his grandson Nathan (Ahmaogak Sweeney) to really listen to the whales. The boy pretends to hear while rocking to tunes over his ear phones.
Krasinski gives his warm and moving best as Adam. The newsman gives Nathan batteries and the latest Guns n’ Roses tape as he mentors him.
“You’re not as easy to hate as I thought,” Rachel and McGraw admit to each other. End credits let you glimpse the story’s real life characters.
Lowry told DiscoveryNews about the moment when the Russian icebreaker arrived. “I went over and knelt down by that hole, and this one whale came up and blew on me – and because it was 30 below, I had all this whale breath that just froze on the front of my parka.”
“And then he just rested his head on the ice, and we had this most amazing eye contact, and I just said, ‘You know what? You guys are going home.” (4 out of 5 stars)
Big Miracle 2011 / PG / 1 hour, 43 min
Cast Overview: Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Kristen Bell, Ted Danson, Dermot Mulroney, John Pingayak
Director: Ken Kwapis
Genre: Family, Nature