Directed by Frank Marshall. Starring Ethan Hawke, Vincent Spano, Josh Hamilton, Illeana Douglas, Bruce Ramsay. (1993, R, 127 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 15, 1993
I can remember reading the novel Alive when I was much younger and having, not nightmares per se, but more like uneasy dreams for some time after. Frank Marshall's film version of the story deftly manages to smooth over some of the more gory aspects of the book, though, and the result is an interesting blend of “triumph of the human spirit” and action filmmaking that never quite descends to the sensationalistic level you keep expecting. Based on a true story (as the credits, posters and press materials keep yelling at you), Alive documents the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the crash of a Chilean-bound airliner carrying a Brazilian rugby team across the Andes. In all, 16 out of the 40 or so passengers managed to survive, unassisted, for literally months in the frozen, treacherous climate. With no food to sustain them, they eventually were forced to the gruesome extreme of cannibalism; “In their death is our life,” comments one of the passengers, gesturing toward the frozen corpses of his former teammates. A story like this, with the inherent ethical and spiritual implications of cannibalism, seems at first an incredibly easy one to screw up. I mean, just think if producers Golan and Globus or Dino DeLaurentiis had gotten hold of this script -- we might well be seeing Eating Raoul in the Andes, or something similarly tasteless (no pun intended). Director Marshall thankfully has a decent head on his shoulders and has been wise enough to play down the gore in favor of the humanity involved. Sometimes this results in an almost preachy feeling, but actors Ethan Hawke, Vincent Spano, and the others manage to keep from going overboard too often. Alive is no Oscar-challenger, certainly, but it does treat a very dicey incident with the even-keeled direction the story deserves.