November 22, 2005

ANTARCTICA (1983) Japanese movie review

ANTARCTICA (Japan, 1983)
CBS FOX release - U.S. NTSC VHS
Soundtrack by Vangelis

Well, having thought that the fantastic Vangelis album was a soundtrack to a documentary, I discovered that it was actually a Japanese feature film. It's a dramatisation of an actual incident - when a Japanese Antarctic expedition ran into trouble and were forced to leave a dog pack behind to fend for themselves. The incident seems to have hit the Japanese headlines at the time and had books written about it.

The film felt a little drawn out, but was countered by some truly spectacular location photography, rivalling scenes from MARCH OF THE PENGUINS, for instance. The music, composed by Vangelis at the top of his form, just after he had scored BLADE RUNNER, gives the film a haunting and unique feel.

I suspect more people have heard the album than have seen the film and it's certainly hard to find. I believe it is still available on DVD in Japan, but with no English subtitles. I found an old NTSC VHS of the U.S. version (dubbed into English), which is watchable enough, but I suspect the cinematography looks better widescreen on DVD, rather than fullscreen on tape. (UPDATE 21st JULY 2006 - HK DVD with English subs released - details here.)

Despite an onscreen disclaimer assuring that no dogs were hurt in the making of the film, they certainly look like they had a rough time in some of the scenes. The re-enactments of what may have happened to the original dogs are upsetting enough as it is. Animal lovers, you have been warned.

UPDATE 19th August 2008 - Just been told that Disney remade this true story as Eight Below (2006), starring Paul Walker.


  1. I saw the film a few days ago and was shocked...: needless to say the umages are beautiful and the story is breath-taking but it is clear those actor-dogs were seriously mistreated during the shooting of the film. I know dogs: some reactions just CANNOT be taught. Disgusting.

  2. From Wikipedia, February 8th 2010, unfortunately without proper citation.
    "The movie was a big hit in Japan and the breed of dog became briefly popular. However concerns were raised if the dogs that took part in the filming were tortured due to the realism involved.[citation needed] The director answered that the emotions shown by the dogs during the film were painstakingly captured and then edited into the relevant parts. In order to recreate the death scenes the dogs were carefully anesthetized. The parts where the dogs drowned or fell were done in the studio and blue-screened with the actual filming location. The blood on the dogs was fake."

  3. I need to watch this again, but for instance, I still remember a scene of a dog caught in an avalanche of falling ice that couldn't have been faked.