Flickchart Road Trip: Alaska
Welcome to the latest installment of Flickchart Road Trip, in which I’m starting in Los Angeles and “driving” across country, watching one movie from each state and posting about it once a week. The new movie I watch will go up against five movies from that state I’ve already seen, chosen from five distinct spots on my own Flickchart. Although I won’t tell you where the new movie actually lands in my chart (I don’t like to add new movies until I’ve had a month to think about them), I’ll let you know how it fared among the five I’ve chosen. Thanks for riding shotgun!
If you hadn’t noticed, I’ve given up telling you every little detail of what road I’ve driven from where and to where. Maybe that’s because I knew my really impressive drive was still lying ahead of me.
Been wondering how I planned to get from Washington to Alaska? Well, I don’t have to hop a plane just yet. There are roads. There are 910 miles of roads, which take over 18 hours to drive, but there are, indeed, roads. Those 910 miles only get you to the southeastern corner of the state, not to a major city, but there are, indeed, roads. Getting to Anchorage? That’s over 2,200 miles. To get to this state, I’d really need the whole week.
I had been secretly looking forward to this as my most exciting adventure of the trip, and I hoped it wouldn’t disappoint — or that I wouldn’t die on the journey. Die? Really? Well, remember way back when I started this trip, and told you that I’d stick to the southern route to have better driving weather during the winter? It’s early December in Canada, so weather luxuries are all out the window. There’s not a huge amount of daylight, either.
Since I am writing this, you can assume I made it. It took some careful planning to make sure I always knew where I could fuel up and where I could sleep for the night, but I did that careful planning well enough never to have to spend a night in my car. (I did have to drive until 1 a.m. one night. Fortunately, I called ahead, and they left the key to my room out for me.)
The Alaska Highway is well maintained in general, but one funny thing, which I was only expecting because I’d read about it in advance, is that about 10 percent of it is unpaved. That really put me in touch with the kind of remote adventure I was on.
Naturally I saw many sights, but many of them were Canadian sights, so I don’t want Alaska to feel betrayed by talking about too many of them here. Let’s just say that it was a gorgeous, sometimes beautifully lonesome drive, and I was glad to have books on tape to get me through the spots when the radio stations were particularly limited. Sometimes, it felt like the quiet was the most appropriate accompaniment to such a strange and wonderful journey.
When I finally arrived in Anchorage, I spent a whole day in bed, watching movies in my hotel room. Suffice it to say, I was pooped.
There were times on this drive when I felt like I could have been just a flat tire and a dead cell phone battery away from becoming the characters in my Alaska movie, The Edge. Lee Tamahori‘s 1997 film finds major Hollywood stars fighting bears, and I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few times when I wondered what my own best weapon would be in the event of a bear attack. The tire iron in my trunk would have had to suffice. Flickcharters have this one ranked #2273 globally.
What it’s about
A crew involved in a themed photography shoot arrives in a wintry wilderness to get pictures of a supermodel (Elle MacPherson) and her co-star. Along for the expedition are her billionaire husband (Anthony Hopkins), her photographer (Alec Baldwin) and his assistant (Harold Perrineau). When the model’s co-star can’t perform because he’s sick, the three men board a Cessna to another remote outpost to recruit a different Native American they think will be perfect for the shoot. The plane hits a flock of birds and goes down into a lake, killing the pilot but leaving the other three shaken but alive. The question is, with no one knowing exactly where they are and bears lurking in the nearby woods, how long will they be alive? Adding a layer of complication, the billionaire suspects that the photographer may be having an affair with his wife.
How it uses the state
There isn’t a shred of evidence in The Edge (other than the beautiful Alaskan-type topography) that the movie takes place in Alaska. In fact, if you wait until the end of the credits, you learn it was filmed in Alberta, Canada. So how did I end up watching The Edge as my Alaska movie? Well, now that we’re nearing the end of the trip, I can let you look behind the curtain on how I choose my pool of viewing candidates for each state. Wikipedia has categories for “movies set in such and such state,” and The Edge appeared for Alaska. Wikipedia’s plot synopsis describes the characters arriving in a “remote Alaskan locale,” and the movie also shows up on a list of Alaska movies at IMDB. So, let’s compromise. The movie never specifically says it’s somewhere other than Alaska, so Alaska it is.
What it’s up against
Before we get to my thoughts on the film, let’s duel it against five other Alaska movies I’ve already seen, shall we? As you know if you’ve ever added a film to Flickchart using the “By Title” feature, the new movie goes up first against the movie in the exact middle of your rankings. The outcome of that duel determines whether it faces the film at the 75th percentile or the 25th percentile, and so on, until it reaches its exact right place. With five movies, that means at least two and as many as three duels. Here are the films The Edge will battle:
1) The Gold Rush (1925, Charles Chaplin). My Flickchart: #679/3585. Global: #118. I am not a silent film aficionado, and I readily admit to getting certain Charlie Chaplin moves confused for one another. (Did that happen in City Lights, or in Modern Times?). One can’t make that mistake with The Gold Rush, as it takes place in the Yukon Territory, and has a memorable scene where a starving Charlie eats his own shoe, dutifully slicing and chewing the leather and twirling the shoelaces among his fork prongs like they were strands of spaghetti. Chaplin’s Tramp character goes to Alaska to participate in the titular wealth grab, but poor weather strands him in a cabin with a couple other shady characters. The film is Chaplin gold, pure and simple.
2) The Proposal (2009, Anne Fletcher). My Flickchart: #972/3585. Global: #3550. If you were like me and didn’t think that The Proposal would belong as #2 on any kind of list, you should continue to be like me and actually see it. This is a genuinely sweet romantic comedy starring one of our most bankable romcom actors, Sandra Bullock, that paradoxically takes her to Alaska in order to melt her frosty exterior. It’s a bit of a slave to formula, but when formula is executed this well — with some really touching moments — it deserves our attention. Ryan Reynolds is also good as the underling to Bullock’s high-powered New York City book executive, who must marry an American in order not to be deported back to her native Canada. In another contrivance, Reynolds takes her to Alaska to meet his family. The Proposal is one of those movies that makes me happy for the contrivances, if they give us such a rewarding final product.
3) Insomnia (2002, Christopher Nolan). My Flickchart: #1469/3585. Global: #2390. There’s a reason Insomnia is the lowest ranked Christopher Nolan feature among Flickcharters: Compared to his other films, it’s just not all that distinctive. Which is not to say it isn’t well-made and ultimately quite good. The remake of Erik Skjoldbjaerg‘s 1997 Norwegian film of the same name has a compelling setup, as it finds a Los Angeles detective (Al Pacino) investigating a murder in the excellently named Alaskan fishing village of Nightmute. It’s during the time of year when the sun never sets, which gives him terrible sleeping problems. Hilary Swank and Robin Williams co-star, Williams pretty chilling as a normal man slouching toward instability as he tries to cover for a very serious mistake. It’s a noir set in daylight, and an accomplished one at that.
4) Snow Dogs (2002, Brian Levant). My Flickchart: #3178/3585. Global: #24770. The dirty little secret about the walking punchline known as Snow Dogs? It’s an okay movie. Well, maybe “okay” is a strong word. Often discussed as evidence of how far Cuba Gooding Jr. had fallen since winning his Oscar, Snow Dogs is actually not terrible — except for a few really awkward moments by Gooding. Gooding plays a Florida dentist who receives an inheritance from his heretofore unknown Alaskan birth mother, which includes a pack of sled dogs. Gooding needs to prove he’s not a fish out of water, and prepares to learn how to drive the dogs in “the big race.” At least Gooding wasn’t the only Oscar winner to sully his reputation by appearing in the movie, as James Coburn also stars, in one of his final performances.
5) 30 Days of Night (2007, David Slade). My Flickchart: #3491/3585. Global: #3450. There are few better ideas for a vampire movie than setting it in Barrow, Alaska, where nary a ray of sunshine touches the landscape for a month straight, giving creatures of the night free reign. Unfortunately, there are few worse ways to execute that idea than 30 Days of Night. Other than generally being idiotic, the movie suffers from a key narrative flaw that most don’t have to worry about: The lack of light makes it impossible to gauge the passage of time, and the movie is terrible about making up for that. The shaky camerawork compounds the pacing problems, making for an overall unpleasant experience that has one of the most ridiculous endings you’re likely to see in this kind of movie.
First duel: The Edge vs. Insomnia. I won’t lose any sleep over this one. Insomnia wins.
Second duel: The Edge vs. Snow Dogs. The Edge clearly has the edge. The Edge wins.
The Edge finishes fourth out of the six movies.
The Edge was advertised as a thriller that pits two adversaries, played by Alec Baldwin and Anthony Hopkins, against each other in a harsh Alaskan (or Canadian, or what have you) landscape. The movie took me by surprise, then, by existing for most of its running time as a story in which those characters and a third (played by Harold Perrineau) team up to survive cold, starvation, and the frequent incursions of a particularly persistent bear.
I said “most.”
The Baldwin vs. Hopkins storyline is not in fact a red herring, but when it does enter the plot, it seems ridiculous, given the life-or-death stakes the movie has spent much of its time setting up. The two characters do have a legitimate beef, but the way that beef plays itself out is incredibly contrived, given the supposedly life-changing experience they have gotten involved in. I’ll try to avoid specifics so as to stay spoiler free, but at the risk of trivializing their situation, I’ll put it this way: If your friend had just run down and tackled the guy who stole your wallet, would you still be pissed that your friend owed you twenty bucks?
My take on The Edge would have been pretty positive if it had been merely a survival story. Even then, though, it’s a bit confused about certain things — namely, its perspective on Hopkins’ character. The billionaire is portrayed as a guy with a steel-trap mind, who can (and does) produce any bit of obscure information he’s ever learned at a moment’s notice. The movie doesn’t see him as a prattling fool, however; he has a generousness of spirit and a goodness toward his fellow humans that makes him unusual for a movie billionaire. Why, then, does the movie waste time on having certain survival tricks he remembers blow up in his face? The Edge spins its wheels like this more than once, making it difficult to consistently support any of its characters. It’s too rough around the edges, so to speak, to feel like anything but a wasted opportunity.
I’m boarding the first of two flights to finish out the trip. At this point of my journey, the number 50 carries a lot of significance to me. So in Hawaii, why not watch the probably very insignificant Adam Sandler–Drew Barrymore romcom 50 First Dates?