4 stars
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Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
5 Stars
HD Video Quality
4 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
4 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line

The Ice Storm

Street Date:
July 23rd, 2013
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
August 5th, 2013
Movie Release Year:
113 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Adapted from Rick Moody's 1994 novel of the same name, Ang Lee's 'The Ice Storm' tells a powerful story about the interactions between two dysfunctional, middle-class families in suburban Connecticut in 1973 as they cope with the dissatisfaction of their lives and with each other.

The film opens with 16-year-old Paul Hood (Tobey Maguire) coming home by train. He's reading an issue of "The Fantastic Four," #141 to be exact, and in it Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic makes a drastic choice that brings an end to the group. Though no one runs the same risk of turning into an atomic bomb, this scene and the panels from the comic foreshadow potential crises that may or may not be averted. Luckily for the filmmakers, 20th Century Fox was developing a Fantastic Four movie at the time, making it easier for them to use the comic book in the movie. Paul's parents, Ben (Kevin Klein) and Elena (Joan Allen, and his 14-year-old sister Wendy (Christina Ricci) are waiting for him at the train station.

A flashback takes us to a dinner party the Hoods attended hosted by Jim and Janey Carver (Jamey Sheridan and Sigourney Weaver). Their sons, Mikey (Elijah Wood), who is about Wendy's age, and Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd), who is slightly younger, help serve. At the dinner, the state of Ben and Elena's marriage is revealed after the disclosure they have stopped couples counseling. What is also revealed is that something is going on between Ben and Janey based on how comfortable she is cleaning up spilled wine in his crotch region and Elena's look in response. It's a well-executed scene because nothing is said but the actions speak volumes.

Sure enough, we soon find the two in bed together, but it's not just the adults looking for satisfaction and meaning through sex. The teenagers are becoming aware of their own sexuality as well. Wendy explores this with both Carver boys, making out with Mikey at an abandoned pool and offering to exchange a peek at each other's privates with Sandy, whose reaction is one of the many honest yet heart-wrenching moments about sex the film delivers. Though a virgin, Paul wants to get together with schoolmate Libbets (Katie Holmes), whose family is going away, but he again has to compete with his dorm mate Francis (David Krumholtz), who goes and gets every girl Paul wants.

It is the toughest on Elena because she is the most aware of how unfulfilled she is but doesn't know what to do about it. She doesn't want an affair, like her husband who can't stop giving clues that he is, such as his wearing a new cologne, even though the free-spirited Reverend Philip Edwards (Michael Cumpsty) signals he's there for her. She relishes the freedom Wendy exhibits riding a bike and takes a turn herself though it oddly leads to a bit of trouble. Finally, when she and Ben discover they have been invited to a key party, she assumes he was using it as an excuse to be with Janey, and demands they take part. The sequence is increasingly uncomfortable to watch as it plays out as neither imagined.

Ang Lee and his entire team of cast and crew do a great job capturing an era while telling stories that are timeless and universal. The cinematography and production design are impressive and subtly change in service of the story. I was absolutely stunned to learn the film got shut out at the Academy Awards. I wouldn't have guessed that in reaction to the outstanding work done by a a number of individuals.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

The video has been given a 1080p/AVC-MPEG-4 encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1. "Supervised by director Ang Lee and director of photography Frederick Elmes, this digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a Spirit 4K DataCine from a 35mm interpositive, and color-corrected on Autodesk's Lustre system. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, splices, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI's DRS and Pixel Farm's PFClean, while Image Systems' Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, and noise reduction," as noted in the booklet.

The image looks clean, free from dirt and debris, and it only reveals light grain. Details within scenes are usually sharp, such as the textures seen in clothing and the ice covering different objects.

At the beginning of the film, colors really shine with bright hues in daytime exteriors, and blacks are deep. The scene when Elena notices Wendy riding her bike through town is a great example of the former. As the film progresses, the cinematography changes to augment the storytelling. This results in scenes where hues are intentionally muted and blacks are lightened to mirror the characters' emotions. This was done on set and also in post. This stylistic choice also finds contrast diminished and the depth flattened, particularly in very low-lit scenes like when Janey returns from the key party and when Ben searches for his keys.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

"The original 2.0 surround soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from the original 35 mm LT/RT magnetic track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD. Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube's integrated workstation."

The dialogue sounds precise and clean throughout and showed no sign of age or wear. The track offers a sense of space. During the opening credits, a train moves across channels. Later in the film, separate car doors can be heard closing on each side of the vehicle. Both Wendy's school band and Mychael Danna's score filled the speakers.

The track offers a surprisingly wide dynamic range for a family drama. At the quiet end, ice on the tracks could be heard being crushed by train wheels and ice-coated branches tinkled as they brushed against each other due to the wind. At the loud end, the bursts of fireworks rang out and made the most use of the bass channel.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

All the extras were previously available as part of Criterion's 2007 DVD release of the film.

  • Commentary – Director Ang Lee and producer/screenwriter James Schamus sit for an amusing and informative discussion as they not only celebrate the work, but poke fun at it and each other as well. They had collaborated on 10 films by this point and have a great relationship, evidenced immediately as Schamus teases that 'The Ice Storm,' their fifth film working together, proved to be, at the time, "the biggest disaster in research-testing numbers ever."
  • Weathering the Storm (1080i, 36 min) – It's obvious the film and Lee mean a lot to the cast because Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, and Elijah Wood appear in individual interviews to discuss subjects like working with Lee and each other.
  • Rick Moody Interview (1080i, 36 min) – The author offers compelling thoughts and insights about having his novel adapted and the distance he needed to keep.
  • Lee and Schamus at MoMI ((1080i, 32 min) – Interview by David Schwartz of New York's Museum of the Moving Image, the filmmaking team sit for a discussion about their creative partnership in conjunction with the release of his then-latest release, 'Lust, Caution'.
  • The Look of 'The Ice Storm' (HD) – In separate audio sessions, paired with images from the film and pre-production drawings, crew members cinematographer Frederick Elmes (14 min), production designer Mark Friedberg (14 min), and costume designer Carol Oditz (8 min) discuss contributions to creating the film's look.
  • Deleted Scenes (1080i, 7 min) – With optional audio commentary by Schamus, the four scenes offer a little more information about the Hood family members. While there's nothing major that's been cut, this is one of the few times I'd recommend viewing them as they do offer more about the characters and what they are up to.
  • Trailer (1080i, 3 min) – The original theatrical trailer is included.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no HD exclusives.

Final Thoughts

While 'The Ice Storm' is an excellent film, I hesitate to highly recommend it, as the rawness of the emotions involved might be too much for some and may limit its rewatchability, but it's certainly a marvelous endeavor, and Ang Lee is a filmmaker whose work deserves to be studied. For their part, Criterion delivers a satisfying high-def disc, and even though the extras aren't new, they offer a rewarding experience for those who want to learn about the film's creation.

Technical Specs

  • BD-50 Blu-ray Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 1.85:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0


  • English SDH


  • Audio commentary featuring Lee and producer-screenwriter James Schamus
  • Documentary featuring interviews with actors Joan Allen, Kevin Kline, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Sigourney Weaver, and Elijah Wood
  • Interview with novelist Rick Moody
  • Deleted Scenes
  • Footage from a 2007 event honoring Lee and Schamus at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image
  • Visual essays featuring interviews with the film’s cinematographer and production and costume designers
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • An essay by critic Bill Krohn

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