- May 9, 2003
Big Miracle breaches its way onto Blu-ray this week in an edition that presents this family film in fine fashion. The movie tells a fictionalized version of the true events of Operation Breakthrough, the 1988 effort to free three whales trapped by Alaskan ice. The movie doesn’t get too complicated about things and it tends to be fairly direct, but there are some heartfelt performances here and a good combination of mechanical and computer-generated effects to create the illusion. The Blu-ray release is a flipper disc, with the Blu-ray on one side and the DVD on the other. I should note that the HD transfer is good, but there’s a bit of visible noise during daylight scenes out on the ice. There are a few extras in the package, including a commentary with director Ken Kwapis. Fans of Drew Barrymore or of whale movies will definitely want to see this. I’m happy to recommend a rental for everyone else.
Studio: Universal/Anonymous Content/Working Title
Length: 1 hr 47 mins
Genre: Family Adventure/Whales/Alaska
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, (AVC @ 30 mbps)
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 (@ an average 3.3 mbps), Spanish DTS 5.1, French DTS 5.1, English DVS 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Film Rating: PG (Language)
Release Date: June 19, 2012
Starring: Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Kristen Bell, Dermot Mulroney, Tim Blake Nelson, Vinessa Shaw and Ted Danson
Screenplay by: Jack Amiel & Michael Begler
Based on the Book “Freeing the Whales” by Thomas Rose
Directed by: Ken Kwapis
Film Rating: 3/5
Big Miracle is a nice family adventure with its heart in the right place and very much on its sleeve. The basic story is a fictionalized runthrough of the real events that happened in Alaska in 1988 where an international group of people worked to free a family of whales trapped by the ice. The movie stars John Krasinski as Adam, a local TV reporter who stumbles across the whales at a small water hole in Barrow and watches as his local-interest story suddenly goes national and international. Drew Barrymore takes the female lead as Rachel, an activist who spearheads the attempts to get the whales out to sea. (The issue is that the whales must surface for air, and this hole is the only access they have – and it’s five miles from there to the open water.) As the story progresses, the people working to help the whales expand to include the local Alaskans who would normally hunt the whales, an oil tycoon who would normally fight Rachel on all issues, the National Guard, and even a Soviet naval ship. The movie doesn’t try to complicate anything here – everything you need to know is on the surface. And there’s more than a few times when characters say things that are more than obvious. But there is an undercurrent of feeling – particularly as shown by Drew Barrymore in one staged interview, where she describes that the whales are very much aware of what is happening, and are as scared of the situation as the humans are. While the movie will never win awards for subtlety or for nuance, Big Miracle is certainly a good family adventure with an interesting story – something we seem to sadly be lacking these days.
SPOILERS: We should keep in mind that the movie is a kind of distillation of the real events of Operation Breakthrough, and that a few liberties have been taken. The true story, which has been documented in at least two books, covers basically the same ground. There were local reporters covering the odd story of the whales, which then went national as TV stations picked up on it. There was an activist who made it her business to corral the efforts to get the whales to safety. There was a National Guard mobilization which mostly failed in its efforts to bring an icebreaker to the whales. There was a romance that happened between the National Guard Colonel and a White House Aide monitoring the situation. And yes, a Soviet Icebreaker was responsible for smashing through the wall to allow the whales to safely swim out. The reality does have one major difference, however. Where the movie allows us to see the whales breach as soon as they get to the open water, the real whales never did. The rescuers in 1988 never knew for certain if they had actually succeeded. The movie hints at this by having the whales flee the vibration of the Icebreaker, but then gives the audience the happy ending of seeing the whales go free. And there you have the difference between a family adventure movie and the reality of this kind of thing.
Big Miracle is being released on Blu-ray and DVD this upcoming week. The Blu-ray edition is a flipper disc that holds a DVD copy on the reverse side. A few extras are included, among them a pair of featurettes, some deleted scenes and a commentary. Instructions are included for downloading a digital or Ultraviolet copy. The DVD copy has most of the content of the Blu-ray.
VIDEO QUALITY 3 ½/5
Big Miracle is presented in a 1080p AVC 2.40:1 transfer that mostly works well, melding CGI with live action and mechanical effects without showing the seams. Flesh tones are accurate, and a satisfying amount of detail is present, as we should expect from a good HD transfer. The only issue I had here is a distracting amount of noise that pops up several times due to the sheer white-on-white effect of filming out on the ice with a grey-white sky as a backdrop. This isn’t something that looks like grain – it’s the small “swarm of bees” effect that can be seen in the sky during the daylight scenes at the water hole. It’s not a major thing, but it does tend to distract me.
AUDIO QUALITY 4/5
Big Miracle is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English, as well as standard DTS mixes in Spanish and French, and an English DVS track. The mix has a lot of fun with the many musical and atmospheric opportunities provided. The subwoofer gets a bit to do, particularly when the Icebreaker is brought to bear. Some of the Native American characters’ dialogue is a little hard to understand, but this is not an issue with the mix.
SPECIAL FEATURES 2 ½/5
The Blu-Ray presentation of Big Miracle comes with several extras, including a commentary, a pair of featurettes and some deleted scenes.
The following materials are presented in high definition on the Blu-ray. If they are also available on the DVD, they would obviously be presented in standard definition there:
Commentary with Director Ken Kwapis (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – This scene-specific commentary with Ken Kwapis is a strange one. I get the strong impression he is reading prepared remarks, or reading from note cards. There’s a fair amount of information being presented, both about the real events and the production of this movie, but Kwapis sounds almost disconnected from all of it.
Deleted Scenes (6:49 Total, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON BLU-RAY AND DVD) – A total of four deleted and extended scenes are presented in high definition. There’s nothing particularly crucial here. One provides more interaction between John Krasinski and Kristen Bell. Another shows the full version of a cobbled-together interview between Larry King in 1988 footage and inset video footage of Ted Danson and another actor. Ken Kwapis provides introductions for all of the scenes. They may be viewed individually or via a “Play All” function.
A “Big Miracle” in Alaska (21:06, 1080p) (EXCLUSIVE TO BLU-RAY) – This featurette, exclusive to the Blu-ray edition, covers the basics of the production. All of the cast are interviewed on set up in Alaska, and a generous amount of on-set video is presented. The usual mutual compliments are presented, but there is one pretty honest moment from Drew Barrymore about the reality of her getting into freezing cold water for one diving scene.
Truth is Stranger Than Fiction (12:08, 1080p) (AVAILABLE BOTH ON DVD & BLU-RAY) – SOME SPOILERS HERE: This
featurette gets a bit more into the true story that inspired the movie, with footage and interviews with the real people. (Some of the older film and video footage seen here is also presented in the movie’s end credit sequence.) It should be noted that the movie got permission to include real news broadcasts from the major networks, including one surprising bit of video at the end of a late 1980 Alaskan news broadcast – featuring a young woman covering sports who would go on to bigger things later in her life.
My Scenes – The usual Blu-ray bookmarking feature is available here, allowing the viewer to set their own bookmarks throughout the film.
BD-Live - This Blu-ray includes access to Universal’s BD-Live online site, allowing for the viewing of trailers online.
D-Box Motion Code – An option is presented to use this motion code in sound systems that can handle it.
pocket BLU – This Blu-ray includes the usual pocket BLU functionality, enabling viewers with appropriate laptop, iPad or smart phone integration to remotely control their Blu-ray player and access some of the bonus content from the separate device. Also, a digital copy is available for download via the pocket BLU application.
DVD Copy – The Blu-ray is a flipper disc. The reverse of the disc is the DVD edition. It contains the movie presented in standard definition in an anamorphic 2.40:1 picture with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound in English, Spanish and French (448 kbps) as well as the English DVS track. The commentary, deleted scenes and the one featurette indicated above are included. There is also a “Previews” menu, allowing access to standard definition trailers for Evan Almighty, Field of Dreams, Babe, Despicable Me, the upcoming Jaws Blu-ray, Seabiscuit, Apollo 13, Flipper and Beethoven.
Digital and Ultraviolet Copies – Instructions are included in the packaging for downloading a digital copy of the movie to your laptop or portable device, as well as for obtaining an Ultraviolet streaming copy to be placed up in the cloud. The instructions include a deadline of November 26, 2012 for activation. I note again that the pocket BLU online menu also includes an option for downloading the digital copy.
Subtitles are available for the film and the special features, in English, Spanish and French. A full chapter menu is available for the film.
IN THE END...
Big Miracle is a nice family film with all the good ingredients: Heartfelt performances, an engaging story based on real events, and the wonder of mechanical and CGI effects bringing whales to life. There’s nothing earth-shattering here (except perhaps the Icebreaker), but this will certainly fill the bill for a good family movie night. The Blu-ray comes with a good high definition presentation, albeit with a little noise, and a few extras. Fans of Drew Barrymore or of whale movies in general will definitely want to see this. More casual family viewers will likely enjoy a rental.
June 17, 2012.
Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:
Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at “THX” picture mode
Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver
Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player
PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)
5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)
2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)
Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer