Wednesday August 14, 1996
"Alaska" is a well-crafted, typical family adventure featuring spectacular natural scenery, an adorable polar bear cub, two believable youngsters and a witty turn by Charlton Heston as a rugged, decidedly heartless villain.
Writers Andy Burg and Scott Myers send 13-year-old Jessie (Thora Birch) and 15-year-old Sean (Vincent Kartheiser) off on a literally cliffhanging journey over Alaskan rapids and mountain ranges in search of their father, Jake (Dirk Benedict), who has crashed in his small plane on a craggy promontory. Only six months earlier, Jake's wife died, and he has uprooted his family from Chicago to start a new life in Alaska, where he's operating a one-man air transport service. Jessie loves the new locale as much as the bored, moody Sean hates it, but in the face of the emergency he grows up fast.
When the youngsters release a cub trapped by rich poacher Heston, the animal follows them protectively. His heroics at the climax will seem over the top for adults but the younger children for whom "Alaska" is primarily aimed should be thrilled.
The logistics of "Alaska" have to have been formidable, but Heston's director-son Fraser C. Heston and his highly skilled cameraman Tony Westman and their crew keep everything moving smoothly and briskly. As visually splendid as "Alaska" is, you can't help but think how ideal it would have been for the new Imax 3-D format.
Since "Alaska" is very familiar and predictable, especially for adults, it would have been greatly enhanced by a sparer, more contemporary score. There's something about natural splendors that brings out the grandiose in composers, and Reg Powell's score overwhelms with bombast a picture whose long suit is its very lack of pretentiousness.
Alaska, 1996. PG, for some mild language, adventure/peril. A Columbia release of a Castle Rock Entertainment presentation of a Fuchs/Burg production. Director Fraser C. Heston. Producers Carol Fuchs and Andy Burg. Associate producer John Stronach. Screenplay by Burg & Scott Myers. Cinematographer Tony Westman. Editor Rob Kobrin. Bear trainer Mark Weiner. Costumes Monique Prudhomme. Music Reg Powell. Production designer Douglas Higgins. Art director Rex Raglan. Set decorator Tedd Kuchera. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes. Thora Birch as Jessie. Vincent Kartheiser as Sean. Charlton Heston as Perry. Dirk Benedict as Jake.