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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Alaska

Starring: Vincent Kartheiser, Thora Birch
Director: Fraser Clarke Heston
Rated: PG
RunTime: 110 Minutes
Release Date: August 1996
Genres: Action, Family, Kids

*Also starring: Dirk Benedict, Charlton Heston, Duncan Fraser, Gordon Tootoosis

Review by Steve Rhodes
2½ stars out of 4

If you are looking for an inspiring family film with lots of breathtaking scenery, and you are tired of kids' shows where all of the humor revolves around bathroom jokes and where they are filled with foul language, I have just the picture for you - ALASKA. This is a simple, but effective film that should delight all but the most cynical.

Father Jake Barnes (Dirk Benedict) and his two kids, twelve year old Jessie (Thora Birch for NOW AND THEN) and fourteen year old Sean (Vincent Kartheiser from INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD), have recently moved to a small and remote fishing village in Alaska. Jake turned in his wings as a 747 pilot to become a bush pilot after the death of his wife.

Jessie loves the wilderness. In one of the first scenes of the show she and one of her Inuit friends are shown on kayaks sailing up a magnificent fjord. She is also her Dad's ground control officer from their cabin. Birch's acting skills are barely tapped in the show, but her charm and energy do come through. I hope she gets more parts in the future.

Sean, on the other hand, keeps skipping school to hang out at the local video arcade and hates being "stuck in the boonies." Resenting his dad's new job, he ridicules him with, "Dad, you used to fly 747s, and now you deliver toilet paper." I am not a big fan of kids whose acting consists of being hard luck cases. Too often, they look like they are just complaining and not acting. I had this problem with Kartheiser's performance. It is too one dimensional for me.

In one of the innumerable magnificent cinematographic (Tony Westman) scenes, their dad's small piper cub is seen gliding among vast snow capped mountain ranges. In another, we have polar bears frolicking on the snow and slipping or, well, more like skiing down a snowy mountain. Actually, the cinematography, the bears and the state are three of the stars of the film. Watch especially how beautiful the aerial shots are when they circle around the subject. The music by Reg Powell with its choirs and trumpets add to the majesty of the images.

In a predicable, but intelligent script, Jake's plane goes down during a storm as he is courageously trying to make an emergency run for someone. The body of the movie is about Jessie and Sean hiking deep into the wilderness to find their dad when they realize that the authorities have basically given up.

What adds charm and interest to the show is a baby polar cub, named Cubby, and a pair of effective villains, Perry (Charlton Heston) and his pilot Koontz (Duncan Fraser). The villains are poachers who are trying to bring back Cubby to some rich clients in Hong Kong. Perry is a cocky hunter who admonishes Koontz that "This isn't hunting. This is business." Perry tells another guy that, "These young people were brought up on MTV and video games. They know nothing of nature." The director of the picture is Charlton's son Fraser Clarke Heston (from NEEDFUL THINGS).

I like the low key humor in the show. When they come upon the poacher's hideout in the wilderness, Jessie wants to do something which Sean puts down with, "Maybe you should write him a note. Dear Poachers, This is very bad. I'm telling." When climbing down a mountain, Sean asks, "Are you sure this is how they do it?" Jessie retorts, "It's how they do it on ESPN." In perhaps the best piece of dialog, when the dad first sees Cubby, he remarks to Sean, "What's that? It's either a polar bear or the whitest dog I've ever seen." Sean quickly replies, "It's a dog. Can I keep him?"

The Inuits are shown as wise and a bit mystical. The grandfather Inuit, Ben (Gordon Tootoosis), advises Sean, "When I was a boy, you had to hunt a bear with just a spear, and you took his spirit or died trying."

I did find it strange that the film juxtaposed a segment that glorified the Inuit's hunting with "Go a boy and come back a man" with one that made white men seem like the devil incarnate for hunting. Granted there were other differences, but still why have the first part in a film with basically an anti-hunting message. At any rate, I consider this only a small problem.

This film gives wholesome a good name. It has a dramatic and stirring ending. It is not great cinema, but our whole family certainly enjoyed it.

ALASKA runs a bit long at 1:50. It is rated PG for a couple of dammits. There is no sex, nudity, or violence. Nevertheless, kids under five might be scared by the villains or by the lost in the wilderness theme. In our audience there were lots of quite young kids, and none seemed scared. Jeffrey (age 7) thinks the film is super and gives it four thumbs up. I recommend the film and give it ** 1/2.

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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