Trapped miles from open water, the majestic creatures - two parents and their baby - faced the prospect of death in the freezing water, despite the best efforts of townsfolk and local Inuit tribes to keep the hole in the ice open.
Operation Breakthrough captured the imagination of television news stations around the globe and writer Tom Rose chronicled this titanic battle against Mother Nature in his book Freeing The Whales.
The inspirational true story translates simply to the big screen, with a starry cast shivering through the snappy lines in Jack Amiel and Michael Begler’s screenplay.
Big Miracle is wholesome entertainment for young and old, timed to perfection to warm the cockles after the recent deluge of snow.
TV journalist Adam Carlson (John Krasinski) is approaching the end of his stay in Barrow, Alaska, where he has befriended the local Inuit tribe including 11-year-old boy Nathan (Ahmaogak Sweeney).
During some filming on the ice, Adam spies a whale in the ice and he discovers that a small family is trapped far from safety.
The animals’ one and only air hole is slowly freezing over so Adam hurriedly broadcasts a news piece in the hope that the networks might pick up the story.
Adam’s old flame Rachel Kramer (Drew Barrymore), who is now a vociferous Greenpeace activist, sees his report and rushes to the scene to help in any way she can.
Annoyingly for her, Adam seems rather smitten with ambitious Los Angeles reporter Jill Jerard (Kristen Bell), who has arrived in Alaska to cover the story.
“I like her make-up,” snipes Rachel, “I’m pretty sure it was tested on animals.”
Amidst the bickering, Adam and co concoct a rescue plan, calling upon Governor Haskell (Stephen Root), oil tycoon JW McGraw (Ted Danson) and helicopter pilot Colonel Scott Boyer (Dermot Mulroney) to rally to their desperate cause.
Big Miracle doesn’t try anything original or innovative but effectively recounts this amazing story against barren Alaskan locales.
The script adheres largely to fact, relying on Krasinski, Barrymore and Bell to add the flecks of romance and humour to stave off the chill from the elements.
Newsreel footage from the era adds to the realism, but also leads to a hilarious dramatisation of a telephone call between the White House and Moscow.
“Gorby, it’s Ronny!” comically coos the US President.
Environmental concerns are addressed in a forthright manner, reminding us that we have a collective responsibility to respect and protect the creatures that share our irreparably plundered planet.
By Damon Smith
:: SWEARING :: NO SEX :: NO VIOLENCE :: RATING: 6/10
Released: February 10 (UK & Ireland), 107 mins