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review added: 3/20/01



The Ice Storm
1997 (2001) - 20th Century Fox

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

The Ice Storm

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B/C-

Specs and Features

114 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 48:48, at the start of chapter 13), Amaray keep case packaging, production featurette, theatrical trailers, film-themed menu screens, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.0 & 2.0) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and Spanish, Close Captioned

"Ben, you're boring me. I have a husband. I don't particularly feel the need for another."

With all the buzz that started to build around Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon late last fall, it seemed like only a matter of time before Fox would finally get around to releasing The Ice Storm, one of director Ang Lee's earlier masterpieces. I, for one, was very eager to see it make its way to DVD. The Ice Storm is one of my favorite films of the past several years. Both haunting in its beauty and genuine in its intention to portray real family issues, The Ice Storm is a film of amazing power and quiet, keen intensity.

The cold, drab backdrop of late autumn in New England is the perfect setting for the tone of The Ice Storm. It's a few days before Thanksgiving, and Ben (Kevin Kline) and Elena Hood (perennial Oscar nominee Joan Allen) are preparing for the holiday and their son's (Tobey Maguire) return from private school for the weekend. Ben and Elena's marriage is slowly, but surely, falling apart. Ben is having an on-going affair with Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), and isn't exactly hiding his tracks very well. Their quiet disapproval of each other doesn't go unnoticed by their kids. Their daughter Wendy (Christina Ricci) spends most of her time with Janey's son (Elijah Wood). Together, they talk politics and explore each other's bodies. On one particularly creepy occasion, they do both at the same time.

What makes The Ice Storm so profound its nearly perfect portrayal of the awkwardness, both politically and socially, of the early 1970's and its immediate effects on the family structure. The late 1960's and early 1970's were a time of great change in America - a sort of loss of innocence. Gone were the days of struggle for the rights of many and the focus on a happy nuclear family. The focus changed to the freedoms and expressions of the individual. It was a daring, experimental time in American culture, and the uneasy, couples "key party" sequence during the last half of the movie is a perfect example of that. The great tragedy of The Ice Storm isn't that the characters aren't willing or unable to feel something. The tragedy here is that when they finally do, it's as a last resort.

In addition to a strong script, The Ice Storm benefits from a set of fine, high-caliber performances from the cast as a whole. Sigourney Weaver's ability to completely embody the character of ice princess Janey is, to say the least, scary. She's a woman trapped in a lonely, desperate marriage to an equally distant (though well-meaning) husband, and she's makes no excuses for her discontent. Joan Allen is once again in top form as a woman who is torn between her devotion to her family and her unwillingness to confront her husband on his infidelities. And as Wendy Hood, a teenaged girl experimenting with her burgeoning sexuality, Christina Ricci started her transition from small, cutesy-type roles to more adult-oriented, dramatic roles. The reason the cast is able to give such credible, potent performances is the even-handed direction of Ang Lee. The amazing thing about Lee and his work in The Ice Storm is the balance he creates between pulling believable performances from his actors and his stunning ability to find warmth and beauty in the strangest, most unthinkable of places. The exquisite imagery throughout the final scenes of the film turns its upsetting last act into something more acute and memorable.

Fox has prepared a very nice looking anamorphic transfer for The Ice Storm. The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio with a very clean, film-like image. Colors are stable and accurate without oversaturation or color bleed. Black level is also very strong and lacks any artifacting or other forms of digital noise. Despite the film's intentionally muted, gray look, flesh tones retain a warm, natural appearance. The only noticeable drawback to the picture is some minor grain, but it's so insignificant that it never becomes an issue as a whole.

The main audio track is a Dolby Digital 5.0 mix. It's rather low-key, with most of the action in the sound field reserved for the front-end of the system. There's not a great deal of rear channel separation (though there are some subtle, soft effects during the actual ice storm), and the lack of a dedicated LFE channel makes this track feel more like a Dolby Surround mix. The important thing here is the dialogue, and it's consistently clear and without distortion. For all intents and purposes, this is a good track for a dialogue driven film.

Fox's DVD release of The Ice Storm is not a disc that's heavy on extras, but there are some welcome improvements to their DVD presentations. The requisite Fox DVD promo still follows the FBI warnings, but now you can at least fast forward through the warnings. In the past you had to sit through it. I suppose it's not a huge deal to wait for a twenty-second warning, but when I want to watch I movie, I want to get right into it. Along with the theatrical trailer for The Ice Storm, there are trailers for other dramas in Fox's library, including Titus, Grand Canyon and Inventing the Abbotts. As with a few other recent Fox DVD releases (like Revenge of the Nerds) the trailers are now widescreen with anamorphic enhancement. I hope this is a trend Fox continues to pursue. Rounding out the disc, is a 6-minute featurette that feels like it was produced for an EPK. It gives about as much background information as you'd expect from such a short piece, but it's nice to see some behind-the-scenes stuff, even if it is the briefest of material. A commentary by Ang Lee would have been nice, as would a more thorough "making of" exploration. I'm glad to finally have The Ice Storm on DVD, but I wanted more.

It's strange to think that, in Ang Lee's relatively new career, he's gotten his biggest acclaim with Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, his return to foreign language filmmaking. I hope the renewed attention to him will benefit some of his other work. I really enjoyed Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but I think The Ice Storm is a better, more meaningful movie. In truth, the two are hard to compare. But the fact that Lee is from Taiwan makes his insight into American lifestyle of the 1970's all the more astonishing. This is a great film, and the near pristine transfer Fox has prepared for the DVD almost excuses the near lack of extras… almost.

Dan Kelly
dankelly@thedigitalbits.com




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