Alive (1993)

FRANK MARSHALL

Bil’s rating (out of 5):  BBB.  USA/Canada, 1993.  Film Andes S.A., The Kennedy/Marshall Company, Paramount Pictures, Touchstone Pictures.  Screenplay by John Patrick Shanley, based on the book by Piers Paul Read.  Cinematography by Peter James.  Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Robert Watts.  Music by James Newton Howard.  Production Design by Norman Reynolds.  Costume Design by Jennifer L. Parsons.  Film Editing by William Goldenberg, Michael Kahn.  

Remarkable true-life story that begins when a flight crossing the Andes from Uruguay to Chile crashes on a mountaintop and leaves a handful of survivors stranded in the snow.  The passenger are mostly comprised of a rugby team and their friends and family, and days of huddling in the torn fuselage and rationing chocolate eventually bring them to the grim realization that there is no one coming to save them.  The persistently fluctuating degree of optimism and determination eventually yield to the leadership of two team members (Ethan Hawke, Josh Hamilton) who decide that the only chance of survival is for the two of them to walk to Chile and bring help back, but first they’ll need sustenance:  with no food around, the only choice is the worst possible option, to eat the bodies of the dead, the devastation of which forms the centre of this very memorable tale.  Beautiful photography of the crystal clear skies and brilliant snow (filmed in the Rocky Mountains) and a host of actors then still establishing their careers (Illeana Douglas, Jack Noseworthy, plus a young Josh Lucas in a small role) are a boon to this often impressive film, but credibility as either South American or of the seventies isn’t consistent throughout the cast, and not everyone is equally successful with John Patrick Shanley’s frequently overwritten dialogue (Bruce Ramsay is particularly awkward).  Shanley frequently reaches for an element of emotional mysticism to give the film a deeper effect than just as cannibal exploitation, but these details are handly clunkily by Frank Marshall, who tries to have his poetic arthouse cake and eat his Hollywood Triumph Music Swells too:  you can’t have gruesome depictions of carved up, frozen bodies while making sure Ethan Hawke never gets dirty and always has glamorously windswept hair.  That said, the plane crash that begins the story is terrifying, and the film does no injustice to the reality of this tale no matter what its flaws are.  Originally filmed in Mexico as Survive, and later the subject of the documentary Stranded, in which the survivors tell their tales on camera.

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