Interview With Big Miracle Director Ken Kwapis

Monday, January 30, 2012

Last weekend I spent a wonderful few days in Santa Monica for the press tour of the new movie, Big Miracle starring Drew Barrymore, John Krasinski, Kristin Bell, Ted Danson, Dermot Mulroney and Vinessa Shaw. Even though the film is based on real events that took place in the late 1980's, I don't remember any of the news stories catching my attention at the time. 

The story takes place over two weeks in Barrow, Alaska. Three California grey whales were late in their migration and got trapped when temperatures dropped faster than normal and the ice froze very quickly. An Alaskan reporter, played by Krasinski, taped video of the whales breaching in a small hole in the ice and the footage ended up on Tom Brokaw's national evening newscast. Soon, saving the three whales went beyond the locals of Barrow and became a matter for the US and Russian military, the White House, Greenpeace and a large oil company.

Mom Blogger Big Miracle interview panel
I'll admit, I was expecting Big Miracle to have a high cheese factor. Sometimes, true events that get converted to the big screen are more exaggeration than real (like The Blind Side). But thankfully that wasn't the case here. There are so many different elements to the movie, it could have been easy to get lost in all the story arcs but Director Ken Kwapis pulled them all together really well.

"A lot of people want to know what it's like as a director working on a film that has so many characters on it," Ken Kwapis said. "In addition to so many characters, there's so many sort of story strands. For instance, there's a geopolitical aspect. It's sort of a tale of the end of the Cold War. There's, what it's like to live in Alaska. It's a young boy's coming of age story. There's a kind of not quite romantic triangle in the middle of it. And all these things kind of hover around a rescue adventure."

Watching the movie and knowing what we're seeing on the screen happened, it's hard to tell what parts are for show and what was real. To me, that's a sign the movie is doing its job of pulling the viewers in.

The director admits one of the more emotional scenes in the movie was invented but adds that, " and large, the most unbelievable events in the film did actually happen. People did carve a path of holes for five miles. I have no clue how they did it. There was an actual event in which a search and rescue chopper pilot brought a flammable generator across the ice, and it was so cold because they had to open the doors that his eye did freeze shut, yes. That actually happened."

Other than the actors, the real stars of Big Miracle were the whales. It was refreshing to see a movie that could have gone heavily CGI choose to use animatronics instead. Fred, Wilma and Bamm Bamm really do look like live whales. All of the actors were able to forget they weren't actually real and lose themselves in the scenes with the whales.

"Yes, the animatronic whales were really unbelievable," John Krasinski said. "They were so well done. These guys from Australia built them and engineered them and then were working them. And it was kind of insane because you really did not believe that they were robots. It was very overwhelming to see one of these things pop out. And while you were acting, to have these things continuously coming out of the water was phenomenal."

Kristin Bell even joked that, "they were more real than some actors I know. Not in this movie, but they were so well made from their scarring to their barnacles. From action to cut, you genuinely felt connected, as if they were animals."

I really liked this movie and hope to read the book it was based on, Freeing the Whales, soon. I know my son will enjoy the movie too. More interview snippets to come!

Click here to watch the trailers for Big Miracle. The movie opens Friday, February 3rd. Follow #BigMiracle on Twitter and Facebook.

Thank you to Universal Pictures for including me on the press tour! 

(Universal provided accommodations, meals, access to the actors and director and entertainment)


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