Thursday, February 23, 2006

“Freying” at “Eight Below”

Ok, I admit it. I was one of the movie-goers that made Eight Below number one at the box office last weekend. The story of a team of sled dogs left to fend for themselves through an Antarctic winter looked intriguing. Every time I saw the trailer, I got teary, for God’s sake.

Look at any of the publicity and the hype for the film, and you can’t miss the words “a true story.” Whether “inspired by” or “based upon,” the producers really play up the film’s verity.

The film’s story is so specific (taking place during 1992 – 1993… ticking off how many days the dogs have been left on their own…) and some scenes are so clunky (the black-tie event and the meeting in the pub, to name only two) that they can be forgiven only if “it happened that way.”

Ah, but it didn’t.

There is a film that does tell the real story. Antarctic , the English title of the 1983 movie, is much closer to the mark. It really does tell the true story of events that took place in the last 1950’s when a Japanese expedition team encountered trouble on their way back to base from a 500 mile trip to the Antarctic Mount. They freed two of their sled dogs, Taro and Jiro, who went back to the base and returned with a rescue party.

Bad weather caused an abrupt end to the expedition, and the men got on a boat and headed for home – leaving behind all of their sled dogs, including Taro and Jiro.

The men whose lives had been saved knew that the dogs could not survive the winter, and reportedly regretted leaving the dogs behind. When they returned the next year, every dog had died… except Taro and Jiro. When Taro died, he was stuffed and placed on display at Hokkaido University in Sapporo.


Anyone who has seen the movie would absolutely NOT recognize this story. The only similarities are “dogs left behind in Antarctica.” The characters in “Eight Below” are fictional. The dogs are fictional (they’re not even the same breed). The Disney story takes place 35 years too late, centers around a non-existent search for a meteorite, and counts down a completely fabricated calendar of “days on their own.”

I went to see it because I thought it was based on a true story. Shame on me. Should have done my homework first. Maybe if I’d known it was fiction from the get-go, I wouldn’t feel so cheated.

I wonder if James Frey is jealous. When he claimed that his memoir was true, and it was later discovered to be fabricated, Oprah set him straight in front of the country. But “A Million Little Pieces” is far more firmly grounded in truth than “Eight Below” – which is currently enjoying TRUE box office success. I guess sales receipts don’t lie.