Directed by Ang Lee
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 113 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround English
MSRP: $ 39.99
Release Date: March 18, 2008
Review Date: March 9, 2008
Ang Lee’s deeply melancholy and near-nihilistic view of families coming apart gives The Ice Storm an almost devastating poignance. These are people who find no joy in anything: their jobs, their families, their friends, their lovers, their lives. Existence is tolerated without being celebrated, and we’re left with a debilitating sadness at the lives they’ve carved out for themselves. Icy indeed are the lives of the individuals portrayed in this movie, and their ultimate ends are as gray and uncertain as the storm-drenched sky that towers over them.
The Hood family is in the throes of Thanksgiving doldrums circa 1973. Ben (Kevin Kline) is being challenged at his job by an ambitious hotshot, his marriage to Elena (Joan Allen) is joyless and almost sterile, the affair he’s having with neighbor Janey Carver (Sigourney Weaver) gives him sexual release but no satisfaction, and his teenaged children (Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci) are hormonal and thus utterly unpredictable. Elena is vaguely aware of the affair but seems emotionally unresponsive to that, channeling her rage into unpredictable acts (shoplifting in a local drug store, agreeing to attend a “key party” involving wife swapping) while daughter Wendy clumsily seduces both Carver boys (Elijah Wood, Adam Hann-Byrd), and son Paul is fighting for his own sexual favors from crush Libbets Casey (Katie Holmes) who’s more interested in Paul’s promiscuous roommate Francis (David Krumholtz).
Lee’s direction is glacially smooth and detailed capturing the early 70s beautifully in both look and tone. Yes, some of the same swooping overhead crane shots that made Sense and Sensibility so graceful are at play here, too, though the emotional and climatic environment couldn’t be steelier or frostier. James Schamus’ screenplay is based on the novel by Rick Moody, and the unhappiness and lies that we see everywhere, not only among the cheating families but reflected in the blustery and deceitful Richard Nixon making empty speeches on television, seem endless and endlessly and destructively painful.
Kevin Kline’s natural ebullience has to be reigned in mightily for him to enact the frustrated and duplicitous Paul, and he accomplishes it beautifully etching a superb character searching for some kind of happiness or sense of accomplishment. Joan Allen’s inert eyes speak volumes about her unhappy existence while Maguire and Ricci at this stage of their careers have tremendous talent to play these smart but emotionally torn teens.
Lee has rounded up an amazing cast of outstanding talent who often play leading roles in other projects but here play (sometimes small) supporting roles to be a part of this ambitious domestic drama. Sigourney Weaver’s Janey seems a bit one-note for this superlative actress, but Jamey Sheridan playing her husband makes much out of a few brief scenes. Allison Janney as the host of the key party that includes John Benjamin Hickey, Henry Czerny, Michael Cumpsty (as a minister seemingly attracted to Allen’s Elena), Kate Burton, Jonathan Freeman, and Glenn Fitzgerald makes a welcome albeit brief surprise appearance.
The film’s 1.85:1 theatrical aspect ratio is presented in a first class anamorphic transfer. The encoding is sharp and clean with solid but unostentatious color. Though the color palette is mostly grays and steel blues, there are some occasional richer colors like lime greens and burgundies that also catch the eye. The film is divided into 25 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo surround track is impressive. The sound designers got far more use out of the surrounds for what is basically a meditative drama than one would have expected. The sounds of the storm itself hiss and fizzle in the rears and the evocative music by Mychael Danna gets channeled well throughout the soundfield.
Disc 1 of this 2-disc release contains the original theatrical trailer though it is full frame and runs for 2 ½ minutes.
Producer-writer James Schamus and director Ang Lee have collaborated on an informative and enjoyable audio commentary. Schamus does a large portion of the talking with Lee adding comments where appropriate. The two are longtime friends and collaborators, so the talk is good-natured with the modest Lee despite all his success still surprisingly humble. The men discuss the casting of the actors, the problems faced during production, getting the period look right for the clothes and props, and dealing with local politics concerning some town elders who didn’t actually want the company filming there due to the notoriety of the downbeat book.
The majority of the bonus features are contained on the second disc.
“Weathering the Storm” is an enjoyable star-laden documentary featuring Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, and Elijah Wood discussing their recollections about filming the movie and working with Ang Lee. The 35½-minute featurette is presented in anamorphic video.
Original novelist Rick Moody comments on the writing of his book and the transition of the novel to the screen. Philosophical about the inevitable changes that such a journey entails, he’s at least in hindsight grateful that the film got made at all. He also accuses Tobey Maguire of mimicking him to achieve his characterization. This anamorphic interview runs 21 minutes.
“Lee and Schamus at the MoMI” is a 31½-minute interview conducted at the Museum of the Moving Image by David Schwartz on the occasion of the premiere of Lee‘s latest film Lust, Caution. The pair discuss each of Lee’s films though The Ice Storm doesn’t receive nearly as much time as some of the other films.
“The Look of The Ice Storm” is actually three featurettes with a different member of the film’s production team discussing his or her work on the film and the particular problems each faced: 13 minutes with cinematographer Frederick Elmes, 13½ minutes with production designer Mark Friedberg, and 8 minutes with costume designer Carol Oditz. Each uses stills, film clips, and illustrations in his discussions about his particular craft.
4 deleted scenes are offered with producer/writer commentary which can be turned on or off. The scenes are nonanamorphic widescreen and can be selected individually or played in one 6¾-minute block.
An 18-page booklet contains quite a few color stills and an essay on the film by movie journalist Bill Krohn.
The Ice Storm gets an impressive DVD transfer with superlative picture and sound. The film’s somber themes and downbeat tone may not be for all tastes, but for introspective drama, it’s hard to top.