Apparently, Astoria has become such a familiar location in films that it's showing up in movies that weren't even shot here.

In Disney's survival adventure film, "Eight Below," Paul Walker plays an Antarctic expedition guide who's forced to leave his faithful team of sled dogs behind when their scientific station is hurriedly evacuated. His fruitless quest to raise the money to return and rescue them ends as he returns home to his trailer on the wooded shores of what the screen claims to be "Astoria, Oregon."

The landscape looks reasonable enough: Pebbly riverbanks skirt a wide swath of water bounded by hazy blue mountains. But these shots were filmed in Vancouver, Canada.

Oh, well. It's good exposure, either way.

The scenic beauty that stands in for Astoria is matched by the daunting icescapes of British Columbia and Greenland that double for the brutal wilds of Antarctica. Though it's much less of a work of cinematographic art than "March of the Penguins," "Eight Below" still captures the awe and the peril known to only those few thousand souls who have ever set foot on the world's most inhospitable continent.

Walker and his buddy, Jason Biggs, are enjoying the end of a South Pole summer when scientist Bruce Greenwood arrives with a singular mission: He's tracking a meteorite from Mercury that's expected to have landed in a remote and treacherous mountain range. Against Walker's better judgment, they hitch up the sled dogs and take off across the ice.

The peril's intense as the team battles unstable snow pack and glaciers, injuries and fatigue, while racing the clock against a monster storm moving in. They're barely alive when they reach their base, and are airlifted immediately to the nearest Army hospital, leaving the dog team behind, to Walker's agony. Though their pilot promises to return for the dogs right away, the Army command cancels all flights until the next summer, six months away.

While Walker treks the globe trying to find a way to get back and rescue his four-legged friends, the dogs become the movie's central characters. Trained to work as a pack, they're still at a disadvantage as domesticated animals forced to survive in the wild.

I'm no expert at canine sociology, so I can't say how much of their behavior would be natural in that situation. But it's darn good family drama. The dogs are beautiful and distinctive, both in looks and in character, so it's easy to follow their interactions.

Small children may be overwhelmed by some scary moments with a leopard seal, and even their parents might need a tissue or two when the struggle for survival doesn't end in victory for all. But the movie has an overall message of hope and family bonds, and the human characters' determination to return to the sled team - even if it's only to bury them - is an inspiring challenge.

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