Ben and Elena Hood (Kevin Kline and Joan Allen) struggle along in the quiet comfort of their posh Connecticut suburb with their precocious and aloof teenage children, Paul (Tobey Maguire) and Wendy (Christina Ricci). Although the façade of their nuclear family has been carefully cultivated, it’s clear the Hoods are somewhat overwhelmed by trying to cling onto the values they’ve been taught in an increasingly complicated era, the early 1970s, a time when the clouds of the Watergate scandal were growing and the grim realities of the Vietnam War were evident on the evening news. Living nearby is the more troubled Carver family, comprising of Jim and Janey (Jamey Sheridan and Sigourney Weaver) and their two teenage sons, Mikey (Elijah Wood) and Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd). The tensions in both homes come to a head over the Thanksgiving holiday, when a major winter storm covers the town in rain, sleet and eventually ice.
Adapted from Rick Moody’s 1993 novel, The Ice Storm was Taiwanese director Ang Lee’s second American feature, and to make the film, he surrounded himself with collaborators who possessed a strong knowledge of 1970s American life and culture. He relied heavily on production designer Mark Friedberg, costume designer Carol Oditz and director of photography Frederick Elmes, ASC (Eraserhead, Kinsey), to give the film the chilly, distant feel that reflected the period and the complicated interplay among the characters. Lee said he was particularly interested in working with Elmes because of the cinematographer’s work on Blue Velvet (1986), in which Elmes illuminated small details with extremely limited light, something The Ice Storm also called for. Lee and Elmes agreed to frame the film in a cool autumn light and created a visual scheme that included naturally occurring reflections and transparencies.
The Criterion Collection’s DVD release of The Ice Storm gives this engaging film the home-screen treatment it deserves. The bare-bones DVD Fox Home Entertainment released in 2001 was certainly solid, but Criterion’s pristine new image transfer is sharper and allows for far more definition in the film’s darkest scenes. Furthermore, its high-definition transfer from a 35mm interpositive was supervised by Elmes and Lee, and the presentation is excellent, with solid range in black levels, nicely balanced colors and a crisp, natural-looking image. The audio, presented in a 2.0 stereo mix, is also solid.
In addition to the feature presentation, disc one of this two-disc package features two supplements: a boisterous, feature-length audio commentary by Lee and screenwriter James Schamus, and the film’s unusual theatrical trailer. Disc two offers a 36-minute documentary that features new interviews with principal cast members; a 21-minute interview with author Moody; a 32-minute interview with Schamus and Lee; a 34-minute collection of interviews with Elmes, Friedberg and Oditz; and a few deleted scenes.
The uneasy world inhabited by Moody’s characters lingers on in this excellent DVD, which perfectly illuminates the film’s unique visual tone of ennui, despair and black humor. Criterion’s package is the definitive home presentation of a powerful portrait of this particular era in American life.