Alaska: Family Adventure, Directed by Fraser Heston, Starring his Father, Charlton Heston

Breathtakingly beautiful vistas barely compensate for the routine story and sloppy direction of Alaska, an old-fashioned family adventure about the courageous efforts of two children to find their missing pilot father.

It’s refreshing to see Charlton Heston, Hollywood’s honorable citizen, play a villainous role under the helming of his son Fraser. Heston, child star Thora Birch–and a cute polar bear–should elevate pic’s visibility, though not enough to make it a fun kids-and-animal yarn, resulting in lukewarm response that’s closer to Monkey Trouble (also starring Birch) than Free Willy.

To overcome the pain of his wife’s untimely death, Jake Barnes (Dirk Benedict) relocates his family to Quincy, a remote seaside town in Alaska. A former commercial airline pilot, Jake is now flying supplies to inaccessible locations. Jessie (Thora Birsch), Jake’s 12-year-old daughter, immediately takes to her new surroundings, but older brother Sean (Vincent Kartheiser) hates the community, aimlessly throwing himself into video games while waiting impatiently to move out of there.

One night, in the midst of yet another heated family dispute, Jake is called upon to transport emergency medical supplies to an isolated village. En route, his plane crashes due to unpredictably foul weather, but miraculously he survives, landing on a sharp cliff. Sean and Jessie’s firm conviction that their father is still alive motivates them to undertake the arduous task of finding him.

While searching for their father, they rescue a frightened polar bear, whose mother was killed by Perry (Heston) and his dimwitted partner, crook poachers who intend to sell it in the black market. Defying sheriff’s orders, the siblings continue their adventure, learning in the process some lessons about survival in the wilderness–and family unity.

The film’s earnest message stresses the importance of family love by drawing obvious parallels between the children’s attempts to find their dad and their equally dauntless venture in finding a family and more hospitable habitat for the cute bear (now named Cubby), who follows them wherever they go.

Unfortunately, the humor, mostly based on the buffoonish scoundrels, is too broad for adolescents and may not be funny enough for children. Naively old-fashioned in the manner of ’50s and ’60s outdoor sagas, Alaska would have been more entertaining if it were directed with some panache. But, alas, helmer Heston lacks the technical skills to make his film both more stylish and congruent with today’s more cynical times. Once the narrative premise is established, the yarn tends to drag and choppy, abrupt editing makes things worse.

Since the tale is utterly predictable, all that’s left for the audience to do is sit back and enjoy Alaska’s glorious sights, which lenser Tony Westman captures with his swirling camera in some magnificent long takes.

However, cloaking in at 109 minutes, pic could benefit from a healthy trimming of at least 15, which will make it a more tolerable experience for both children and parents.