The Ice Storm appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though much of the flick looked quite good, some notable issues arose.
Actually, I should probably refer to a notable issue: edge enhancement. Haloes cropped up too often through the movie, and they left wide shots as moderately soft and ill-defined. Closer images seemed great, as they showed very nice delineation and clarity, but the farther-out elements suffered from the muddiness that came with the edge enhancement.
At least the movie lacked jagged edges or moiré effects, and source flaws were absent. In terms of colors, Storm went with a fairly chilly palette to match its emotional tone. This didn’t mean that the flick was totally desaturated, though, as it still boasted some pretty warm, full colors. I thought the hues were good given the design parameters.
Blacks looked deep and firm, while shadows were reasonably clear and distinctive. A few low-light shots were a bit murky, but those were in the minority and not a big concern, especially given the dim nature of so much of the film’s photography. Without the edge enhancement, the transfer would’ve been great, but those haloes left this as a “B” presentation.
The Dolby Surround 2.0 soundtrack of The Ice Storm offered a decent but unspectacular experience, though its shortcomings were more expected. I didn’t think the film would be a multi-channel extravaganza, and I was correct. The mix stayed strongly oriented toward the forward spectrum, where it provided a pretty positive atmosphere. Effects were placed accurately across the front speakers, and they blended together well. Music showed strong stereo separation and appeared well-defined. The surrounds contributed acceptable reinforcement of the forward mix, and they came to life fairly nicely during a few louder segments, such as when trains roared past.
Audio quality appeared positive. Speech sounded distinct and natural, and I discerned no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Effects were clean and realistic and they displayed no signs of distortion. The music appeared warm and bright, and the track offered reasonable low-end when appropriate. Ultimately, The Ice Storm provided a good but unexceptional soundtrack that worked well for the film.
How did the picture and audio of this Criterion release compare to those of the prior DVD from 2001? The old disc provided a Dolby Digital 5.0 mix instead of this one’s 2.0 track. I don’t know which one represented the theatrical audio, though I’d have assumed Storm had a Digital track since it came out in 1997; that seems late in the game to stick with 2.0 audio. Whatever the case may be, I couldn’t discern any true differences between the two mixes. Both sounded very, very similar.
On the other hand, the transfers differed. I thought the Criterion image worked better, though not to an enormous degree. The new DVD looked cleaner and a bit better developed, but that edge enhancement kept it from thoroughly topping its predecessor. Though I preferred the Criterion, it wasn’t good enough to totally beat the prior release.
While the old release came with almost no extras, this two-disc Criterion package throws in a mix of supplements. On DVD One, we find the movie’s trailer as well as an audio commentary with director Ang Lee and writer/producer James Schamus. They discuss the source novel and its adaptation, cast and performances, sets, locations and period authenticity, the challenges involved when a Chinese director takes on such an American story, music, editing and deleted scenes, and a mix of production issues.
During its early moments, the track drags a little. However, it picks up pretty quickly and becomes quite engaging. We get a good impression for a mix of subjects, and both men seem pretty frank about the good and the bad aspects of the experience. Throw in a number of fun anecdotes and this becomes a winning commentary.
Over on DVD Two, we start with a new documentary called Weathering the Storm. In this 36-minute and eight-second show, we get movie clips, archival materials and new interviews with actors Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, Elijah Wood and Sigourney Weaver. They chat about themes, characters and performances, story elements, how they came onto the film, working with Lee, reflections on the era in which the flick takes place, and a few other thoughts about the shoot.
I’m happy Criterion was able to round up so many of the movie’s main actors here, and they provide nice insights. The performers cover a good range of subjects connected to their experiences in this informative and enjoyable program.
Next comes a Rick Moody Interview. During the 21-minute and 19-second piece, we hear from the source novel’s author as he discusses his work, its adaptation for the screen, and his reactions to the cinematic result. Moody takes a rather elliptical way around these subjects, but he comes across as up-front with his opinions and lets us know what he does and doesn’t like about the movie. I admit I’d prefer something more straightforward, but Moody presents enough interesting remarks to make the featurette worthwhile.
We get more from the commentary participants in a piece called Ang Lee and James Schamus at the Museum of the Moving Image. It runs 32 minutes and four seconds as they go over Lee’s acting background and his early career, the partnership between Lee and Schamus, aspects of Lee’s flicks, and general elements of his work. “Image” doesn’t tell us a ton about Ice Storm, but it doesn’t purport to do so. Instead, it offers a nice overview of Lee’s career. We get a mix of interesting thoughts about his movies and some fun anecdotes in this entertaining show.
Three featurettes appear under The Look of The Ice Storm. This collection includes “Cinematography by Frederick Elmes” (13:37), “Production Designs by Mark Friedberg” (14:00) and “Costume Designs by Carol Oditz” (8:23). As you can tell from the titles, these cover cinematography, production design and costumes with comments from Elmes, Friedberg and Oditz. They also chat about working with Lee and a few other aspects of the Ice Storm experience. Their notes give us good information about the various topics.
DVD Two finishes with four Deleted Scenes. Taken together, they last a total of six minutes, 47 seconds. We find “Ben Hood at the Office” (2:07), “Elena and Rev. Edwards” (2:14), “Elena’s Offer” (1:14) and “Paul’s Moral Dilemma” (1:12). I like “Office”, as it provides some laughs and also better sets up the rivalry between Ben and co-worker George. “Elena” is less interesting, mainly because it telegraphs the Seventies sleaze vibe given off by Edwards. “Offer” does little more than reiterate the well-established distance between Ben and Elena, while “Dilemma” shows Paul’s temptation to take advantage of an intoxicated Libbets. Frankly, we already get that sense from the shot in the final flick, so this sequence would be redundant.
We can watch these scenes with or without commentary from Schamus. He provides some basics about the shots and tells us why they got the boot. Schamus throws in a few decent thoughts but not as much meat as I’d like.
Finally, the package features a 20-page booklet. It includes some photos along with an essay by film critic Bill Krohn. This isn’t one of Criterion’s best booklets but it’s still pretty good. They make the best booklets in the business, and this is another useful one.
Does the Criterion DVD lose anything from the prior Fox release? Yeah, but not much. It drops a promotional featurette from 1997. That was a decent piece, but I don’t miss it.
The Ice Storm is a chilly but involving affair that provided a deft and compelling examination of suburban America. The film neither condemns nor endorses its characters, which was a refreshing change from most works of this ilk. The DVD provides reasonably good picture and audio along with a satisfying complement of supplements. This becomes a solid release for an intriguing film.