"The Ice Storm" is one of those movies that slipped through the pop cultural cracks.
Ang Lee's elegant, bleak portrait of suburban life in Connecticut circa 1973, based on Rick Moody's novel, earned a mere $8 million at the box office and zero Academy Award nominations. Instead, other 1997 offerings like "As Good as It Gets" and "The Full Monty" received Best Picture nods while this dark journey back to the time of Watergate, crocheted sweaters and key parties melted away, almost unnoticed.
Thanks to the Criterion Collection, releasing "The Ice Storm" today in a two-disc set ($39.95), the movie has a shot at rediscovery. The restored digital transfer, accompanied by audio commentary from Lee and screenwriter/producer James Schamus, allows viewers to see every detail in all its exquisite, retro glory. Another treat for those who have never seen "Storm" is the sight of so many young stars before they moved on to blockbuster status. In addition to the always excellent work by veterans Kevin Kline, Joan Allen and Sigourney Weaver, we are treated to subtle performances by pre-"Spiderman" Tobey Maguire, pre-"Lord of the Rings" Elijah Wood and pre-Tom Cruise Katie Holmes.
"The Ice Storm" successfully achieves a vivid sense of coldness in both tone and setting -- the action takes place during a bad patch of winter weather over Thanksgiving weekend -- and the DVD's top-notch extras explain exactly how. The documentary "Weathering the Storm" and a featurette on the production design reveal that the film was shot in the spring. So all that ice we see onscreen? Much of it is actually hair gel.
The multiple featurettes are full of interesting, behind-the-scenes facts like these, from the details of the Chinese "Best Luck" ceremony that kicked off the shoot to costume designer Carol Ortiz's revelation that Kevin Kline made life very difficult for her staff. "Every day when Kevin would put on his costume, he would say, 'Oh, this is too tight,'" she remembers. "And he would start doing knee bends until he busted out every seam in every costume."
Additional extras -- including deleted scenes, footage from a panel discussion at New York's Museum of the Moving Image, audio commentary with Lee and writer-producer James Schamus and an interview with Moody -- all make "The Ice Storm" yet another excellent notch on the Criterion Collection's belt. Like all of the company's releases, this is a DVD that renews interest in the film at its center, but also reminds us of all the nuances that make cinema such a collaborative, challenging and compelling medium.
Most Superheroic Bonus Point: During the Museum of the Moving Image discussion, Schamus suggests that "The Hulk," the big-budget disaster that Lee directed and Schamus co-wrote and produced, flopped partly because of how it was promoted. "They marketed it as a 'Spider-Man' movie," Schamus complains. For his part, Lee still seems a little devastated by the film's failure: "I thought it was going to wow people."
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Releases worth marking on the calendar:
PHOTOS: 'The Ice Storm' -- Criterion Collection and Fox Searchlight/'I Am Legend' -- Warner Bros.