When Paul Walker died of a tragic car accident the other day, I was one of the many fans who mourned, and continue to mourn his death. At 40 years old, he was too young to leave this world and judging by his co-stars’ reaction to his passing, he was not only a marvelous actor but a stellar human being as well. Paul may be remembered most for his role as undercover cop turned hard core fugitive Bryan O’Conner in The Fast and Furious franchise but there is one other role where Walker completely stole my heart and cemented my loyalty as a fan forever.
In 2006, Walker starred as Jerry Shephard, a guide in an Antartica research facility and master to eight Siberian huskies who got trapped in the middle of a snowstorm when the base was evacuated amid a medical emergency. The movie, Eight Below, was produced by Walt Disney based on the true story of Shephard’s inspiring struggle to save his dogs and the canines’ resilience and journey of survival that lasted for five freezing cold months.
I’m a sucker for stories about animals and having eight dogs in the front and center of the movie poster was enough to get me interested. I knew that Walker’s role would take a backseat to his canine co-stars but I was pleasantly surprised at the intensity in how Walker portrayed his real life counterpart, as well as the genuine affinity he had with the dogs. It really sold the story for me.
While the main draw for the movie was actually the dogs, Paul managed to somehow make sure that he was still part of the story the whole time. His expressive blue eyes communicated his determination to save his pets and his love for his furry friends effectively. The care in which he patched up Jack and his devastation in seeing Jack’s body when he finally succeeded in getting the go signal to return for his dogs completely broke my heart. His worry over the others and his elation in seeing the rest of the pack was contagious. His rapport with his animal co-stars was evident. They adored each other and if he was not a dog lover in real life, then I would say that he was an even better actor than I imagined. Its hard to work with animals
The dogs, on the other hand, were awesome. I don’t know how but the trainers really need to be credited big time for guiding the dogs into the performing with such depth and realism of a real pack. They are just so smart and amazing. While I was watching this movie, I was clutching my chest the whole time because I was so worried about the dogs and was just so awed by their owner’s loyalty to them to go to the extent he did just to get a ride back despite the hopelessness of the situation.
All in all, Eight Below was a great movie. Heartbreaking, heartwarming, inspiring and emotional. It touches something deep and basic in all people and this is what makes it work for all types of audience. It speaks of kindness and loyalty, determination, friendship and love. I love dogs, and I love Paul. Remembering this movie just makes me miss Paul all the more. I wish that in heaven, he could meet up with the real Old Jack and Dewey and they would keep him company, ride shotgun with their tongues hanging out in Paul’s new ride in the sky. Rest in peace, Paul Walker. You will be missed.