The Ice Storm [DVD]
Director : Ang Lee
Screenplay : James Schamus (based on the novel by Rick Moody)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1997
In The Ice Storm we are shown with painful clarity just how cold the human heart can be and how we don’t have to look very far to grasp this notion. In fact, we only have to glance in our own backyards, and we might be shocked at what we find.
Set to an ethereal, haunting score by Mychael Danna in which the final notes seem to die out rather than fade away, The Ice Storm takes place in 1973 over the Thanksgiving weekend, that great American holiday. It was a time when the U.S. was at a crossroads: the war in Vietnam was winding down, the upheavals of the ’60s were coming to a close, and Richard Nixon was on the verge of presidential disgrace. It was a time of unrest and uneasiness, which is reflected in the film’s protagonists, who are all “normal,” middle-income WASPs in the homey suburb of New Canaan, Connecticut. And, while everything appears placid on the outside, things are not well within, as the last vestiges of ’60s hedonism have finally seeped into the suburban world.
Father and husband Ben Hood (Kevin Kline) is sleeping with his neighbor, Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver), whose dullard of a husband, Jim (Jamey Sheridan), is always out of town. Ben’s wife, Elena (Joan Allen), who is never interested in sex, is a kleptomaniac who can’t stop herself from stealing lipstick at the corner grocery store. All of them drink too much, spend too much time carousing at social events, and pay too little attention to their children, who are becoming just as infected as they are at a time when they are most vulnerable.
Ben and Elena’s daughter, Wendy (Christina Ricci), spends most of her time making out with the Carver’s quiet son, Mikey (Elijah Wood), but she doesn’t hesitate to play a quick game of “Show me yours and I'll show you mine” with Mikey’s creepy younger brother, Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd). All of these kids have their own problems, all of which can be directly linked to their parents. Like her mother, Wendy also steals from the same corner grocery store, and she is growing a voracious sexual appetite like her father. Mikey is so withdrawn from the world that he can’t give an oral report in class without sounding like he’s on drugs, and Sandy’s chief enjoyment in life is blowing things up with firecrackers. That is, when he’s not hovering in the background, watching and absorbing everything around him.
When the parents do try to parent, it’s as pathetic as it is funny. In an blackly ironic twist, these parents, who feel they are so sexually liberated that they can go to parties and exchange car keys with strangers, are unable to have literate conversations about sex with their children. When Ben tries to have a “little talk” about the ways of life with his 16-year-old son, Paul (Tobey Maguire), the best thing he can come up with is, “Don't masturbate in the shower because it wastes water and electricity.” When Janey catches Wendy and Sandy in the bathroom exposing body parts to each other, she pulls Wendy out and babbles incoherently about the body as a temple and anthropology. No wonder these kids have problems.
The films builds piece by piece to an extended climax during the ice storm of the title, which is a character in and of itself--both symbolic and necessary to the plot. The world is covered with a slick layer of silvery ice, making everything both beautiful and deadly. It is the ultimate cold pouring out of the sky, just as the ultimate cold is finally coming out of the characters. During the storm, a number of important developments take place that tell us much about the specific characters and the human condition in general. The ice storm takes it toll, both physically and emotionally, and at the end of it, when one character puts his head on the steering wheel of his car and begins crying uncontrollably, it’s for good reason. It’s not so much that he’s crying for lost innocence, but that the innocence has been gone for so long that it’s not even left as a memory.
The Ice Storm was directed by Taiwan-born Ang Lee, who first garnered American acclaim with 1995’s Jane Austen adaptation Sense and Sensibility and has since gone on to helm such disparate films as Hulk (2003), surely the most fascinating and flawed of recent comic book adaptations, and Brokeback Mountain (2005), for which he won the Best Director Oscar. As British-born John Schlesinger showed with Midnight Cowboy (1969), sometimes it takes foreign-born filmmakers to really get the heart of the American experience, and this is a perfect example.
Taken from the novel by Rick Moody, Lee and screenwriter James Schamus make The Ice Storm into a cold, cautionary statement about what we think we know. The underlying theme is an old one that still maintains a sharp relevance: that of the sins of the father being passed down to the son. Lee infuses the film with just enough humor to keep it from becoming unremittingly bleak, but the overall impact is harsh and caustic. It is, in every sense of the word, devastating. At the end, we’re left with the feeling that none of these characters are capable of leading fulfilling lives. Despite their material possessions and “open” lifestyles, all their searching has been in vain because they haven’t found peace with themselves or each other, and the coldest part of all is that they probably never will.
|The Ice Storm Criterion Collection DVD|
|Audio||English Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround|
|Distributor||The Criterion Collection|
|Release Date||March 18, 2008|
|VIDEO & AUDIO|
|It’s so rare these days to see a relatively “new” film given the Criterion treatment, but as we see in their presentation of The Ice Storm, it’s a shame they can’t get the rights to more. Criterion’s new high-definition anamorphic transfer, which was taken from a 35mm interpositive and supervised by director Ang Lee and cinematographer Frederick Elmes, looks great. The carefully rendered portrait of Americana in the early ’70s is beautifully presented in all its ugliness, from the Carver’s bland modernist house, to the browns, greens, blues, and grays that dominate the wardrobe and interior design. The film’s color scheme is largely subdued, but certain primary colors (for example, Wendy’s red sweater) pop out vibrantly. The image is sharp and well detailed, without any signs of age or damage. The only soundtrack available is the original two-channel stereo track, which was transferred at 24-bit from the 35mm LT/RT magnetic track and digitally restored. This means that the Criterion release has dropped the 5.0 surround mix that was available on the previous DVD, but Mychael Danna’s haunting score (composed primarily with Native American instruments) sounds so good it’s hard to complain.|
|Long-time friends and colleagues often record the best audio commentaries, which is certainly the case with director Ang Lee and producer/screenwriter James Schamus’s track on this disc. The duo have collaborated on 10 films in 15 years, and it shows in their easy-going, but highly informative commentary. There is more of Lee and Schamus on the second disc, as well, which includes a half-hour on-stage interview with them at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York, where they were honored in 2007. We get a complementary view of The Ice Storm in “Weathering the Storm,” a highly engrossing 36-minute retrospective documentary that is told entirely from the viewpoint of the film’s amazing ensemble cast--Joan Allen, Kevin Kline, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Sigourney Weaver, and Elijah Wood--all of whom contribute new interviews. Another intriguing supplement is the 21-minute video interview with novelist Rick Moody, who is refreshingly frank in discussing what it’s like to have his novel adapted to the screen (when he discusses how the film is talked about as “Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm,” you can hear the difficulty in his voice). There are also three “visual essays,” each on a different aspect of the film’s visual design: “Cinematography by Frederick Elmes” (13 min.), “Production Design by Mark Friedberg” (14 min.), and “Costumes by Carol Oditz” (8 min.), each of which features commentary by the respective artist explaining his or her process over photographs, design sketches, stills, and footage from the film. Four deleted scenes (two of which were transferred from video masters and two from film dailies) total just over six minutes, and each has optional commentary by Schamus.|
Copyright ©2008 James Kendrick
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