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Ice Station Zebra

Ice Station Zebra on DVD

It was only the biggest and best theaters of the day that could show Cinerama films in their native format, and it was generally only the biggest and most awe inspiring films (such as 2001: a space odyssey) that could fill such screens.

Which kind of makes us wonder why Ice Station Zebra fit that bill. Oh, sure, it’s a neat telling of an Alistair MacLean story, with an all star cast and a larger than life story, but despite its many good points it seems just a tad small for Cinerama.

It works great in the home theater, though, despite the fact that the high resolution of the DVD format lets you see clearly that its arctic locations are obviously done on soundstages.

Ice Station Zebra is a cold war adventure telling the tale of a US Submarine crew sent to rescue a crew of civilians trapped at the title location. Rock Hudson is the sub commander, and he’s joined by Patrick McGoohan as a rather obnoxious British spy, Ernest Borgnine as a defected Russian now working for the US, and Jim Brown as a tough as nails US Marine officer sent to command a gaggle of Marines sent to support the mission.

It all makes for a very crowded submarine. It’s a pretty nifty submarine story, too, where we get an interesting glimpse at the apparent workings of a US Navy nuclear sub. They also managed to build the interior sets on tiltable bases so that when the sub dives, the actors are clearly performing on angled decks rather than the director merely tilting the camera for effect and the actors pretending to walk on an angle.

The first half of the movie recounts the sub’s journey to the arctic and under the ice, and during that time there’s a sabotage attempt that threatens to destroy the sub and all in it – a suicide mission before the days of zealots strapping explosives to themselves.

Ah, but who was the perpetrator?

As it turns out, the bad guy is the most logical suspect, but there are enough red herrings in the script to keep you wondering.

The second half is set mostly on the ice and in Ice Station Zebra itself and if you’re tired of things naval there’s a nice collection of model Soviet aircraft to keep you happy and an on-ice confrontation between the two superpowers of the day that ends in a status quo situation that we found a tad unsatisfying.

Still, it’s a good yarn overall and though it’s slow in places there’s enough action and intrigue to keep fans of the cold war thriller happy.

The special effects are pretty good, though it’s easy to tell what’s an effect and what’s real (including, as mentioned, the locations). And Michel Legrand’s score is glorious and has been remastered into multichannel audio that sounds better than it has any right to considering the movie’s age.

The DVD itself is very good. Presented in anamorphic widescreen, 16x9 TV compatible, its 2.20:1 aspect ratio nearly fills the 16x9 TV with a beautifully crisp and sharp image that has excellent color as well.

Audio has been remixed into Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, though there’s little evidence of surround. Still, the front three channels sound great for a 1968 movie, especially the music. Some of the dialogue comes across a bit hollow, but for the most part it’s fine.

For extras, you get a selection of trailers as well as a promotional documentary featurette "The Man Who Makes the Difference."

Ice Station Zebra, from Warner Home Entertainment
150 min., anamorphic widescreen (2.20:1, 16x9 TV compatible), Dolby Digital 5.1 surround
Starring Rock Hudson, Patrick McGoohan, Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown
produced by
Written by , directed by John Sturges


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