Alive (1993)

7 Feb

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Smith’s Verdict: ***1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“Alive” is based on the true story from 1972 of a chartered plane carrying friends, families, and members of a Uruguayan rugby team that crash-landed in the Andes. For a little more than two months, before they were finally rescued, the survivors struggled to survive the cold and also resorted to cannibalism, eating parts of the dead, to keep from starvation. The story was made into a best-selling novel by Piers Paul Read, and has been adapted into the uplifting drama “Alive.”

“Alive” opens with one of the most frightening, convincing plane crash sequences you’ll see in a movie. It’s perfectly executed and captures the intense fear of being on a falling plane. It starts out just unnervingly, as the plane goes through some turbulence, but then it gets crazier and more terrifying as the plane surely is crashing down. It’s unforgettable, as sights such as seats with people still in them being hurled outward through a gaping hole where the back cabin used to be. At that point, we’re hooked and wondering what’s going to happen next.

The survivors are stuck on a mountain slope in the Andes and they do what they can to stay alive until a rescue team comes for them. They ration what little food they have, use seat covers as blankets, go inside the fuselage at night and curl up next to each other to stay warm. But with the continual freezing weather, food running out, and a rescue that has been called off, they realize they must do whatever they can to survive, even if that means eating the flesh off of their dead.

The subject of cannibalism is horrid and “Alive” doesn’t shy away from the horrific reality of the situation. It confronts it realistically. The characters talk about it with credible unease and tension. Some are even afraid to say the word “cannibal,” and when one does, it makes the situation even more uneasy. When one does eat, no one asks how it tastes, so no one says what it tastes like—someone eats for the first time and then leans his head down in disgust and holds out the cutting tool used to slice some meat and says quickly, “Someone take this.” When they’re all used to it, though, they manage to crack a few awkward jokes, like “If you eat me, be sure to clean your plate.” This is all done genuinely, with the characters reacting with authentic horror at the situation and then trying to relieve the tension.

“Alive” is something of a “triumph of the human spirit,” as an ordinary group of people is pushed to their limits to survive an extreme situation. The film has a bright look, an uplifting tone, and constant talk about religion and God that make “Alive” more of an inspirational survival tale than a dark thriller confronting the horror of cannibalism. This is why the true event is sometimes remarked as “the Miracle of the Andes.”

One problem I have with “Alive” is that with a large group of people as the film’s central characters, only a few of them can have enough screen time to be considered independent while the others just blend into the film. The only actors I can think of that have a significant amount of screen time are Ethan Hawke as reckless Nando; Vincent Spano as take-charge Antonio; Josh Hamilton as reasonable Cannessa; Bruce Ramsay as optimistic Carlitos; and Kevin Braznahan as pessimistic Roy. Another problem I have with “Alive” is the ending. This is supposed to be the big dramatic payoff, but it just felt sort of rushed and looked over without really gathering a lot of much-needed weight.

But for the most part, “Alive” is very much indeed alive. It’s well-crafted, well-acted, and quite effective. Instead of becoming a mere adventure story, and the final half does venture into that territory (though respectively), “Alive” becomes a more visionary tale about survival and experience that works.

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