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Director Ang Lee effortlessly captures the feel of Watergate-era Connecticut in his adaptation of Rick Moody’s The Ice Storm. An atmospheric look into the breakdown of the modern American family as it runs head-on into new social mores, the film, set in New Canaan, Connecticut in 1973, follows two suburban families whose dysfunction has risen to such levels that their communication has vanished completely. The parents seek fulfillment away from their materialistic comforts in spouse-swapping key parties, shoplifting, extramarital affairs, and alcohol, while their children are left to fend for themselves in a world of comic books, fallen political role models, sexual experimentation, and drug use.
Ang Lee uses the holiday season, usually a time of family gathering and socializing, and the 70s backdrop, more as points of reference, rather than a nostalgic time warp and cliché window dressings, as so many other filmmakers may have done. In doing so, he manages a quiet and introspective study of the American family on the precipice of a new era, coming off the turbulence of 60s social upheaval and sexual revolution, and heading into the malaise of 70s recession and disenchantment, the breakup of the family, and an overriding sense of cynicism. The ominous natural disaster looming that gives the film (and Moody’s lauded novel) its name stands not only as a metaphor and symbol for the things to come, but also acts as the primary driver of the atmospheric visual character of The Ice Storm. Not only that, but it will bring forth a devastating tragedy that ultimately is the catalyst to finally drive these self-absorbed characters together — all too late.
Filled with a cast of A-list veterans like Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, and Sigourney Weaver, alongside youngsters like Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood, and Katie Holmes, all putting in solid, if not outright top notch performances, The Ice Storm is one of the 90s’ most lastingly impressive American films. I know it was one of the first to make it into my DVD library, and I am glad to own it now on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection.
The Ice Storm‘s high definition transfer was supervised by director Ang Lee and director of photography Frederick Elmes. The transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Spirit 4K DataCine from a 35mm interpositive, and color-corrected on Autodesk’s Lustre system. MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean were used to remove dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker, while additional processing on dirt, grain, and noise was applied with Image Systems’ Phoenix.
The film is offered up in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio with an AVC/MPEG-4 encodement from Criterion Collection. The softer-looking grain structure of the medium-speed film stocks employed during the production of The Ice Storm, no doubt an artistic choice to capture a look and feel of an early 70s period, also translates into a rather soft looking image in this transfer from Criterion. One can assume, having been overseen by Ang Lee and Frederick Elmes, that the film looks pretty much as intended. However, in combination with the often cool, desaturated color palette, softer textures, and, often unnatural looking edges in spots, this one does not strike me as a reference release. That said, the shadow details are sublime and are to be commended.
The original 2.0 soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the 35mm LT/RT magnetic track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, crackle, and hum wee removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation. It’s offered in a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 (48kHz/24-bit) track that is clean, dynamic, and nicely spread across the front speakers.
As always, Criterion includes a plethora of meaningful, informative supplements with this release.
- Audio commentary recorded by the Criterion Collection in 2007 features director Ang Lee and producer and screenwriter James Schamus.
- Weathering the Storm (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 00:36:09) – One of the most notable features of The Ice Storm is its astounding ensemble cast, with both esteemed adult actors as the parents and young up-and-comers as their children. In this 2007 documentary, produced by the Criterion Collection, actors Joan Allen, Kevin Kline, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Sigourney Weaver, and Elijah Wood reflect on the making of the film and how it affected their careers.
- Rick Moody Interview (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 00:21:22) – In this interview, conducted by the Criterion Collection in 2007, author Rick moody discusses his response to the film adaptation of The Ice Storm, his second novel.
- Lee and Schamus at Momi (1.78:1; 1080i/60; 00:32:08) – With ten collaborations over fifteen years – including the Academy Award-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Brokeback Mountain – director Ang Lee and writer-producer James Schamus have forged a fruitful and enduring partnership. In November 2007, the two filmmakers sat down with David Schwartz of New York’s Museum of the Moving Image for this conversation about their work together.
- The Look of The Ice Storm – The Ice Storm seems to genuinely inhabit its historival moment of 1973. Much of this authenticity can be attributed to the film’s powerful visual style. These audio interviews with three of the principal contributors to that style – cinematpgrapher Frederick Elmes, production designer Mark Friedberg, and costume designer Carol Oditz – are illusrated with clips and stills from the film and design drawings.:
- Frederick Elmes
- Mark Friedberg
- Carol Oditz
- Deleted Scenes (1.33:1; 1080i/60; 00:06:50) – With several rough cuts clocking in at well over two and a half hours, The Ice Storm underwent some painful trimming. Four scenes excised from the final film are presented here with their original soundtrack or commentary by producer-screenwriter James Schamus. Editor Tim Squyres re-created these scenes from his original edit files, 3/4-inch videotape dailies, and work-print lifts.
- Trailer (1.33:1; 1080i/60; 00:02:31)
- Booklet: The illustrated booklet features an in-depth essay on the film by film critic Bill Kohn, cast and crew credits, and information on the transfer.
The Definitive Word
Intimately capturing a moment in time without inundating us with the minutia of most period films, Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm is an impressive, quiet, and moving look at the breakdown of the American family during the Watergate era. This is a must-have slice of Americana.
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