Tuesday 23 October 2018

Movie Review: Iceman (1984)

A science fiction drama, Iceman has a sketched-in premise and plenty of grunting.

At a scientific base in the arctic, a prehistoric man is found frozen in ice. Anthropologist Dr. Stanley Shephard (Timothy Hutton) is summoned to assess the find, and determines the iceman to be about 40,000 years old. To the surprise of all the assembled scientists including team leader Dr. Diane Brady (Lindsay Crouse), resuscitation efforts are successful and soon the Iceman (John Lone) is up and around.

For safety he is confined to a climate controlled vivarium. Shephard starts to spend time with him and tries to decipher the Iceman's grunts to establish basic communications. But as Shephard makes progress, other scientists argue for more invasive examinations and a noisy helicopter triggers mystifying heightened anxiety.

Directed by Fred Schepisi and produced by Norman Jewison, Iceman takes a long time to thaw, and then spends its second half in a surreal state. Most of the final 50 minutes are occupied by the Iceman grunting away and Shephard staring in sympathy and occasionally grunting back. The vivarium becomes a cinematically self-destructive disaster zone draining away the rudimentary momentum built in the laborious set-up.

The script may intend to lean heavily on the real science of linguistics, but also finds a way to recruit an MIT linguistics specialist into the movie, who proceeds to contribute less than nothing to the communication attempts. Instead Shephard alone somehow deciphers the Iceman's mystical final journey, complete with dumbfounding references to entities such as The Messenger and The Trickster. Any attempts to metaphorically represent man's quest for ultimate salvation are lost within the unconvincing dialogue and stiff acting.

John Lone delivers a fully committed performance as the Iceman, while Timothy Hutton and Lindsay Crouse are predominantly stuck in snippy mode. Danny Glover and David Strathairn have underdeveloped smallish roles as tense members of the research team.

Slow, static and stodgy, Iceman sinks in the snow.

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