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Film / Big Miracle

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Big Miracle is a dramatization of the true story of the 1988 operation to free a family of three gray whales trapped in the ice at Point Barrow, Alaska.

What makes this film more than a bland feel good story is that the motives for this act of mercy are fully explored such as an oil company executive and the Ronald Reagan administration take part at least in part provide good publicity to counter their media images as environmental villains. On the other hand, Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore) is a true blue environmental idealist who has her own problems understanding nearby the Inupiat community who are traditional subsistence whalers who see their way of life threatened by this media event, but feel they have no choice but to play along lest they lose more of their rights from a possible public backlash.

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  • Becoming the Mask: Downplayed, but J.W. starts helping the whales solely for the good P.R., but ends up showing genuine investment in their fate, and spending far more money than he'd planned to helping them.
  • Betty and Veronica: Abrasive, local Granola Girl Jill is the Betty, while prim, easily frazzled out-of-town Hot Scoop Jill (who seems interested in the human reactions to the whales than the whales themselves) is the Veronica.
  • Butt-Monkey: Jill does get some breaks thrown her way, but she gets zero respect from her colleagues back in L.A. (they even try to yank her off the story and send in a patronizing coworker once it becomes such a big deal), is unable to get a hotel room, nearly freezes her feet after initially not buying any cardboard to stand on and then gets forced to pay extra for it and her budding relationship with Adam fails. She even lampshades it, and gives serious thought to quitting her job.
    Jill: I'm just a smelly, drunk, depressed barbie.
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  • Cat Up a Tree: Whale up a glacier
  • Cutting the Knot: Rachel cuts through the politics with naked threats and bullying.
  • Defrosting Ice Queen: Rachel seems to get nicer throughout to the film, from a straw Granola Girl earlier on to a more likeable and less reckless character by the end.
  • The '80s: It's set one month before the 1988 election, with the events either helping or hurting leaving President Reagan's environmental record. Despite this, the characters' appearances were all updated to the 2010's, most notably the National Guard colonel and the two Minnesotan brother-in-law businessmen.
  • Enemy Mine: Greenpeace and Big Oil, working together to save the whales.
  • Eskimo Land: One of the most realistic depictions with the Inupiat struggling to cope with a relatively normal situation blown up into a media circus. In that situation, they feel they have to massage their response to keep the world public from turning on them.
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  • The Faceless: Whenever Ronald Reagan appears, only the back of his head is seen.
  • Got Volunteered: Dean and Karl are introduced debating about whether they can actually afford to go out to Alaska to publicize their de-icing device, with Karl being all for it while Dean is hesitant. Then the doorbell rings. Dean gets it and finds out that Karl has apparently already told the media that they were going, effectively committing him.
    Reporter: Are you the brave men going up to save the whales?
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: All over the place, and almost everyone has a different perspective.
  • Granola Girl: Rachel
  • Honest John's Dealership: The young Inupiat boy takes advantage of the situation through a number of quick sales to unprepared tourists ($20 for a piece of cardboard to insulate their feet from the ice, for example). Adam even calls him Gordon Gekko at one point.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold:
    • J.W. Though he's in it for the publicity, he respects Rachel's determination to help the whales get to safety and thinks about both sides of the spectrum.
    • Rachel: Though she's dedicated to saving the whales and probably the only one involved in the affair who doesn't (personally) have an ulterior motive, she's also extremely self-righteous, tactless, and thinks nothing about bullying, threatening people and running smear campaigns to get the whales out.
  • Knight Templar /Principles Zealot: Rachel at times
  • Magical Native American: Subverted in that the Elder Inupiat character understands not only the ways of nature, but the intense political nightmare the community would face if they harvested the whales with all the media watching.
  • A Million Is a Statistic: Jill expresses some frustration with how much media attention the whales are getting (admittedly after being threatened with being yanked off the story by her station), pointing out that there are thirty wars being fought around the world right now that are being ignored for this human interest story.
  • Minnesota Nice: Karl and Dean, who arrive with a new de-icing machine to use just as the whales hole is freezing over.
  • Mood Whiplash: The elation at seeing the whales finally heading towards the coast, using the holes is cut short by the realization that their baby isn't with them, and has died.
    Adam: Where's Bam-Bam?
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong: The Soviet icebreaker crew are not going to be stopped by a wall of sheer ice just because it might damage their ship. They are going to break through it even if it kills them.
  • Non-Idle Rich: Well maybe not rich, but the Eskimos are receiving large annual checks for oil drilling on their lands, but continue whaling rather than just buy all of their food. Rachel is pretty pissed off about this.. When she points it out at a tribal meeting, Roy, one of the whaling captains, points out that the oil won't last forever, and they need to keep teaching their children whaling so they're prepared for if/when they have to back to fishing to survive.
  • Not Quite Saved Enough: Rachel dives down with the whales risking her life to remove a net from Bam-Bam's tail which has been harming him and making him weaker, but he still ends up dying later on.
  • Older Sidekick: Dmitri, the first mate of the Soviet icebreaker, is about a decade older than his captain.
  • Ramming Always Works: The Soviet icebreaker crew risks damaging the ship by ramming the ice wall with three tries of increasing force.
  • Real Person Cameo: At the end, with a clever use of stock footage, it's revealed that the sports reporter at Adam's TV station is Sarah Palin
  • Romantic False Lead: Adam has a crush on Jill Jerard, and they seem to hit it off at first, but at the end of the movie he's back together with Rachel.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Almost everyone involved is doing this extraordinary act of kindness for their own self-interested agendas, at least at first. Even Rachel, the most idealistic character, is pointed out to be using the crisis to solicit donations for Greenpeace and position herself as an authority on Artic environmental issues for other campaigns
  • Straw Character: Amazingly enough averted. Everyone, whether they are on the left or right, are sympathetic, and have their flaws. And in the end, both sides put aside their differences to work together to save the whales.
  • Those Two Guys: Karl and Dean, who appear together in all of their scenes, and have a nice banter. The same is true of the Russian icebreaker captain and his first mate.
  • Yet Another Baby Panda - The story was a small one even for local Alaska TV, but then the national nightly news picked up the story and to put on the last minute, and that's how the media circus began.

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