Matthew Lickona 4 p.m., Feb. 17
- Rated PG
Agreeably old-fashioned survival adventure, "inspired by a true story" as well as by a Japanese film inspired by the same story, about a team of Antarctic sled dogs who, after saving the life of a UCLA scientist in quest of "the first meteorite from the planet Mercury," are chained up for safekeeping while their masters fly out to get medical aid, and are then left on their own for six months -- forty-two months, that would be, in dog years -- when winter storms come ahead of schedule and seal off their retrieval. The early shots of the dog team in harness at full run ("They absolutely love their work") are stirring; and the rescue of the scientist from a hole in the ice, the leader of the pack worming her way towards him with a lifeline in her teeth, is breath-stopping. There is also, in their months of aloneness, one moment guaranteed to make you jump out of your skin, and that's just the start of the film's most nerve-racking sequence. All eight dogs, blessedly free of inner voices provided by the likes of Bruce Willis and Whoopi Goldberg, form as stoical an ensemble of actors as you could find outside a Jean-Pierre Melville gangster film. They thoroughly outclass Paul Walker, Jason Biggs, Bruce Greenwood, and Moon Bloodgood (as the hottie airplane pilot), despite the humans' sincerest efforts and the indiscriminately flattering photography, crisp, clean, bright, by Don Burgess. Not all of the dogs (pussies be warned) make it through alive, but it's precisely at the times of loss and injury that their demeanor is most inspirational. This is bad, their faces seem to say, but let's get on with it. A couple of them, over the course of events, emerge as individuals, but even then the overriding point, and very touching point, is their togetherness, their oneness. As their handler laconically puts it: "Good team." Directed by Frank Marshall. 2006.