September 11, 2015 | Posted in Famous TV & Movie Dogs
A true-life story from the late-1950s about a Japanese explorer expedition gone bad was made into a 2006 film titled “Eight Below”, starring the late Paul Walker and Bruce Greenwood. But arguably the true stars of the show were the eight dogs that were at the center of the original tale and featured prominently in the film.
The story, which was changed quite a bit for the film, was re-written to take place in 1993 in Antarctica, but still told the tale of an exploration guide (Paul Walker) at a weather station who is asked to take a scientist (Bruce Greenwood) around the base camp. Eight dogs – primarily Huskies – form the dogsled team that Walker’s character not only depends upon but has come to love. Following a horrible snowstorm, and injuries to Walker’s character, it’s determined that everyone has to evacuate the area. Everyone except the dogs, that is. They are chained in place so they won’t wander off and other workers at the weather station promise to return quickly for them.
But that’s not what happens. The dogs must fend for themselves for nearly 6 months. It’s the basis for the film, which is a true animal survival tale. Actually, the film dogs fared much better than the real Huskies did. In reality, only 2 of the dogs lived, whereas in the film, the script has only 2 passing away.
When the film was being planned, producers went in search of dogs to play the eight roles of the sled dogs. Their animal handling agency, Birds and Animals, contacted Joanne Lenz, a reputable Chicago breeder of Siberian Huskies, and bought two of her “red” or coppery-colored Huskies. She was doubtful about the situation until she read up on the agency and learned they’d trained Hedwig, the snowy owl in the “Harry Potter” films as well as the dog Fang from the same films, in addition to many other famous animal actors.
The search was then on for the remaining 6 dogs. This time, they focused on Alaskan Malamutes, and found two as rescues in Tennessee. When casting was complete, they had a mixture of Malamutes and Huskies and training began, although the dogs all had a natural instinct to work together and pull a sled. Each was assigned his or her own trainer and offered top notch vet care. In addition to the eight primary dog actors, a back-up group of dogs performed stunts or were stand-ins. There were a total of 30 dogs involved in the making of the film, each reportedly with his or her own personality.
The actors began working with the dogs, which Paul Walker said was the best thing about doing the film, since he was a huge dog lover. The only thing he found a bit uncomfortable was the chicken or liver baby food that had to be smeared on him in scenes when the dogs were supposed to lick his face – a common dog actor training trick.
Though there was one fight that broke out, and once a scene called for actions the dogs hadn’t been prepared for, thus causing delays while they were better trained, the American Humane Association gave the film its “No Animals Were Harmed…” stamp of approval.