'Alaska' succeeds with story, scenery

August 14, 1996|By Michael H. Price | Michael H. Price,FORT WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM

Robust and fulfilling "family entertainment," Fraser C. RTC Heston's "Alaska" works as both high adventure for the general trade and satisfying fare for the younger audience.

Director Heston plays the yarn with a distinct bias in favor of juvenile stars Thora Birch and Vincent Kartheiser (as alienated brother and sister, united in crisis), pitting them against a gathering arctic storm and a ruthless poacher.

The poacher is played with rugged malice by Charlton Heston, the director's famous father, so you know the kids aren't going to be cut any slack in that department. Nor is the weather likely to go easy on the characters merely because they're children.

Birch and Kartheiser avoid the sitcom shallowness of the bickering siblings stereotype, conveying instead the pain and fortitude of near-estranged youngsters who, having lost one parent, determine to set aside their hostilities long enough to rescue another.

The Andy Burg-Scott Myers screenplay is at once complicated in the emotional and adventurous terrain it seeks to cover, and yet straightforward and plain-spoken. Director Heston gets the adolescent hostilities firmly established early on, moves promptly place mail pilot Dirk Benedict in mortal danger and then sets the kids in motion to find their missing father. The appearance of Charlton Heston plays like some random act of fate: His character is not so much an evil man as he is merely a cutthroat opportunist who seems capable of doing harm to anyone who might get in his way.

The scenery is, of course, spectacular enough without help from anybody's cameras, but cinematographer Tony Westman takes especial pains to reconcile the danger and the beauty into a sustained image of Alaska.

The story itself is sufficiently gripping to complete the illusion, making "Alaska" one of the few modern-day pictures that manages to convey adventurous thrills, a bit of terror and a sense of heroic identification without resorting to graphic violence or cheap shock value.


Starring Thora Birch, Vincent Kartheiser, Charlton Heston and Dirk Benedict

Directed by Fraser C. Heston

Rating PG (mature themes, violent action, scattered uncivil language)


Pub Date: 8/14/96

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