For those happy with the transfer on their Fox DVD and are not concerned with supplements for the film, they can probably stick with the Fox release. While I prefer the new video transfer on the Criterion edition (but admittedly don’t hear a difference between the audio tracks) the Fox disc still presents a very solid one. Criterion, though, has put together an excellent collection of supplements spread out over the two discs, definitely trumping the Fox release in this area.
The first disc contains a couple of supplements, the big one being the audio commentary featuring director Ang Lee and producer/screenwriter James Schamus Within a few minutes we get the idea this is going to be a fairly light, though amusing commentary track with the two immediately commenting that the Fox logo theme music is their favourite of all of the studios, and then Lee giving a good ol’ “F--- you” to Schamus a little bit further in. The tone of the commentary is more reflective on making the film rather than really looking at the themes of the movie or the novel on which its based, though they do get into those themes every once in a while. It’s mostly anecdotal, with discussion on Lee using his bad English at the time to be more direct (rude) with his actors, and even little tricks that were used on the look of the film (a gel, that Schamus says was “probably” not toxic, was used to cover the scenery to give the impression of ice during the final act of the film.) There’s amusing little bits where Lee, seeming to be unsure of the English dialogue being spoken during moments of the film, questions Schamus (“Did I direct that right,” he’ll ask here and there, wondering if he got the context of the scene correct) and he also plays favourites with the actors: While he obviously loves all of the actors he has no issue with anybody knowing Joan Allen was his favourite actor to work with. They also touch on Fox’s handling of the marketing (they messed up pretty much, hoping the film would garner some Oscar nods but it was so under the radar it missed out) and by the sounds of it they pitched the film as a comedy, and even intended on making a comedy (a satire of sorts) but the film turned into something different as they were making it and then editing it. It may not look as deep into the film as I may have liked but it’s an entertaining commentary with some interesting bits, and more than makes up for it.
Closing off the first disc is the theatrical trailer. This is an interesting trailer that was also available on the Fox DVD. The trailer completely misrepresents the film, presenting it almost like it was some goofy family comedy (it actually reminds me of that parody trailer put online a few years ago for Kubrick’s The Shining, which presented the horror film as if it were some romantic comedy directed by Cameron Crowe.) I never saw this trailer before seeing it on the Fox DVD, and I remember watching it after seeing the film and being taken aback by it. It’s completely off. It’s interesting to view if only for evidence as to how Fox had absolutely no clue how to handle the marketing of the film.
On disc two, also a dual-layered disc, we find a small collection of supplements. The first one is called “Weathering the Storm”. Running over 35-minutes and presented in anamorphic widescreen, it presents interviews with members of the cast including Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire, Elijah Wood, and Christina Ricci. The feature alternates between them as they discuss what interested them about the project, themes in the film, as well as describe who they thought their characters were. They discuss working with Ang and his attention to detail, which included giving each of the actors a kit that included “samples” of the 70’s (items from the era including ads, albums and so on) and also having them write out bios. There is some discussion on things that were also mentioned on the commentary, including Lee pretending his English was rougher than it actually was so he could be blunt with the actors, and they also discuss the use of gel for recreating the ice storm. And everyone mentions their disappointment as to how overlooked the film was. It’s a quick yet fairly informative interview. I had sort of hoped maybe for a commentary from members of the cast but this will do.
The next interview is with Rick Moody. Running about 25-minutes and also presented in widescreen, Moody discusses the film, which he obviously has a very high opinion of. I usually hear nothing but statements from authors bashing the movies based on their books, but Moody certainly doesn’t feel that way and even goes as far as saying the film actually improves on his book. He also reflects on the time on which the film is based and does make comparisons between the book and film. Overall an informative and surprisingly entertaining supplement that gives a decent perspective from an author on adapting novels for film.
“Lee and Schamus at MOMI” is a 30-minute interview, yet again in anamorphic widescreen, with Lee and Schamus at The Museum of Moving Image. This looks to have been conducted around the time of Lust, Caution’s release. This was actually a fairly humourous segment, and really expands on the commentary track, as they go through Lee’s career from acting and then to directing his first film, Pushing Hands and all the way through Lust, Caution. There are some funny anecdotes, such as where Schamus describes Lee’s pitch for his first film as the most boring pitch he ever sat through. They discuss how Sense and Sensibility came about, go over Hulk’s disappointing reception and, yes, talk about The Ice Storm (but skip Ride with the Devil.) A nice little look back through Lee’s career and the working relationship between Lee and Schamus.
The next section is titles “Look of the Ice Storm”, which is comprised of three audio interviews with cinematographer Frederick Elmes, production designer Mark Friedberg, and costume designer Carol Oditz. All together they total about 35-minutes and are presented in anamorphic widescreen. All three are, as mentioned, audio interviews played over clips, stills, or designs. Elmes talks about the overall look of the film, basing it on photorealist paintings from the time. He discusses the use of light, and also talks specifically about transferring the film for this Criterion release, stating that they were going for a colder look like the theatrical prints. Friedberg talks about setting up the ice storm itself and getting the gel that was sprayed all over town, much to the dismay of the community. He also talks about “casting” the houses used and building the sets for the interiors. Oditz has the shortest segment, and she discusses the costumes of the film and how she was really trying not to do a “Brady Bunch” like mocking of the style at the time (and I agree with her that the 80’s was far worse.) I’m usually not too keen on these types of presentations of this subject matter but this worked rather well. I think of the three the bit with Friedberg may be the best, just because I’m actually quite fascinated that they managed to create the storm using gel.
And the last little piece, running 7-minutes in total and presented non-anamorphic, is a collection of four deleted scenes. The scenes are presented separate or can be played altogether with or without the commentary. These are actually good scenes, though I can see why they were cut, despite that a couple of sequences look at the economic issues at the time (stagflation and one sequence where cars are lined up in the background for gas.) The optional commentary only features Schamus and he explains why the scenes were cut, and talks about the regret of doing so with a couple (one, which was mentioned in the commentary, was cut because they felt it was “too funny.”) According to the notes the original cut was two and half hours so I’m assuming there’s more, but these few scenes more than likely round it up nicely.
Not carried over from the Fox DVD is the featurette found on that release. This isn’t a big deal since it was more a PR piece and the other supplements on this set more than cover the making of the film.
We then get a booklet with an essay by Bill Krohn who goes on to explain why The Ice Storm is one of the best films of the year. It has some things that expand on the rest of the features (like more detail about how the film was planned more as a comedy) and shares statements made by Lee. Like most of Criterion’s booklets it’s an excellent read. 9/10