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The enduring tale of ‘The Great Alaskan Race’

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In 2018, the world waited with bated breath until they learned that the last boy trapped in a Thai cave had emerged safely from the water. The heroism, grit, international collaboration and triumph over the elements that saved the young soccer teammates captured the attention of millions.


Nearly 100 years ago, people were similarly gripped by the plight of Nome, Ala., which in 1925 had a deadly diphtheria outbreak and no medicine to cure the infected children. The story, depicted in the 1995 children’s movie “Balto,” is once again hitting the screen in the live action film “The Great Alaskan Race,” in theaters Oct. 25.


The film’s writer and director Brian Presley plays lead character Leonhard Seppala, who mushes 350 miles of the nearly 700-mile route to bring medicine to the remote town when a blizzard makes sailing and flying impossible. Viewers watch the parallel battles of the dying children, cared for by the town doctor and his daughter, Constance, and the salvific journey of the mushers and their dogs through treacherous conditions. A newscaster reports on the relay’s progress to the watching nation.


The dialogue and the acting isn’t as polished as in most mainstream films. And strangely, a narrator, seemingly an older Inuit man, speaks at the beginning and end of the film, but his identity is never revealed or explained.


In spite of flaws, the nearly miraculous story, aided by beautiful cinematography of the snowy landscape, carries the film. Alongside explanations of native spirituality, many of the townspeople attend a Christian church, and the themes of hope and faith are woven throughout.  It’s a beautiful reminder of the power of humanity to come together for the common good, and in spite of daunting odds, prevail. The film is rated PG.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019