TV REVIEW : True Story Depicts Family's Will to 'Survive'

"Anything to Survive" (at 9 tonight on Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42) is a physically compelling production about a family's will to live when their boat sinks in an Alaskan inlet and they're washed ashore on a forbidding and remote island in the dead of winter.

The story, which covers 24 hellish days, is true. The fear of death from pain, sub-freezing weather and starvation is relentless, and the indifference of nature is implacable.

The teleplay by Jonathan Rintels (based on the book, "Almost Too Late," by Elmo Wortman) packs grinding physical despair with credible characterizations. The cracking up of the boat at night in horrendous seas is dramatized with jolting effect by director Zale Dalen.

Robert Conrad, as a divorced carpenter living in Alaska with three adolescent children, has a role that for him is surprisingly vulnerable, and he does justice to it. His character is resolute but he's not a hero; he's a flawed and stubborn guy with edgy relationships with his son and two daughters.

Particularly well drawn is the youngest girl, a rather pampered, utterly authentic 12-year-old played by Emily Perkins. Her older brother and sister (Matthew LeBlanc and Ocean Hellman) are also gritty portrayals.

But it's the brutal rains, the snow, the rocky shoals, the sea that make this production surge. For fans of outdoor survival literature, man's struggle with the unforgiving nature portrayed here reminds you of two classic short stories, Jack London's "To Build a Fire" and Stephen Crane's "Open Boat."

In fact, there's a scene where the sisters, freezing and huddled, fall off a crumbling snowbank into the ocean, and the older girl just stands there, a pale resigned look on her face in the "cold-comfortable seawater" (to borrow Crane's "Open Boat" imagery).

Here's action TV and a family adventure reduced to the basics. Even the prototypical secondary plot of long-simmering emotional scars exposed and resolved in the wilderness is conveyed with dispatch and a lack of pretension.

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