Big Miracle (2012) PICK
The Dark Crystal / Labyrinth (1982/1986) PASS
The Gold Rush (1925/1942) PICK
New on home video, Big Miracle is a decent fact-based family film about the 1988 operation to save a trio of gray whales trapped in Alaskan ice. John Krasinski plays a small-town reporter whose discovery of the whale’s plight is the scoop that could make his career; Drew Barrymore plays a Greenpeace environmentalist activist who pressures people in power to work together to save the whales.
What I like about the film is its frankness about the quixotic, even misguided, aspect of the whole business, including the excessive zeal and patronizing attitude of Barrymore’s environmentalist toward the Iñupiat Eskimos in whose territory the whales are trapped. Although the Iñupiat elders would prefer to slaughter and eat the whales, in the light of global media, they reluctantly agree to the attempted rescue of the whales, since they recognize that the alternative is to be portrayed as backward savages to an uncomprehending world.
That’s a level of nuance absent in most environmentally themed films. Main drawback: unnecessarily harsh language.
New from Criterion, Charlie Chaplin’s comedy classic The Gold Rush is now available in a single edition that includes both the original 1925 silent film and Chaplin’s 1942 reworking of the film in a quasi-sound edition, with humorous, documentary-like narration replacing the intertitles. In either version the film is a masterpiece; purists prefer the original, but the sound version has its charms and is even more accessible to the youngest viewers.
The high-concept story sends the Little Tramp to the Klondike in search of gold. Almost uniquely in the Chaplin canon, Gold Rush allows the Tramp the possibility of a truly happy ending, for once successful both in love and money. First, though, he must brave bears, fugitives, starvation and, of course, heartbreak.
Kids who’ve seen The Muppets will recognize Chaplin’s classic dinner-roll dance (reprised by Amy Adams), and Looney Tunes aficionados may recall the gag in which a starving man hallucinates another man as a welcome meal.
Finally, the Jim Henson Creature Shop’s two non-Muppet 1980s movies, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth, are packaged together in a new Blu-ray edition called “The Brian Froud Art Edition,” after the British fantasy illustrator whose work informed the look of both films. While both films have their fans, I’m not among them. The Dark Crystal is ambitious and visually engaging, but characters and emotions never come to life, while the mythology seems self-consciously contrived rather than taking on a mythic reality of its own. Labyrinth I find lazy and haphazard, like Alice in Wonderland crossed with a middling episode of The Muppet Show guest-starring David Bowie. Your call.
CONTENT ADVISORY: Big Miracle: Frequent cursing, some crude language and limited profanity; threats to animals. Tweens and up. The Gold Rush: Slapstick violence and menace. Fine family viewing.