Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on February 15th, 2011
“At the top of the world, there’s a job only a few would dare. The Ice Road Truckers are back. Last year they chased their fortune over the frozen gauntlet of the Daulton. But this season, Alaska’s most fearsome road is just the beginning….”
It was the peak of the 1970’s, and CW McCall was teaching ordinary people like us about Cabover Petes with reefers on and getting by those Smokeys. The man practically started a new genre of music with the hit song Convoy. The song was so popular that the backup band used their cut to start a little project of their own. They became Mannheim Steamroller and used the cash to cut their own music. The movies started giving us things like Smokey And The Bear. Truckin’ was in fashion, and a good time was had by all.
It’s over 30 years later, and the truckin’ fad has been in our rearview mirror for so long most of us don’t really think about it anymore. With the advent of the dangerous and extreme reality shows, I guess it was only a matter of time before somebody brought up trucks again. Leave it to the History Channel to take something I never thought for one second could be any more interesting than watching grass grow and hook me for about 13 hours, in Blu-ray high definition, no less.
It’s the truth. I rolled my eyes when this one came in. At first I wanted to see it just to experience a few minutes of the series. I didn’t expect all that much, and I figured that was going to take all of 10 minutes before I saw all there was to see and began to get bored to tears. So on a Friday afternoon I settled into my green recliner in my home theater to watch a few minutes of Ice Road Truckers. A few hours later I had watched 5 straight episodes, and the day was gone. I’m not going to tell you it was the most compelling television I have ever seen; far from it. Surprisingly, though, I did find the material compelling. In less time than I care to admit, I was actually interested in these drivers and the stuff they were hauling. I figure I know that road well enough by now that I might just have to see about running a few hauls myself for that big money. Okay, let’s not get carried away.
This season the show remains in Alaska and the Dalton Haul Road, a 500-mile stretch of road that connects Fairbanks with the oil fields in Prudhoe Bay. Most of this road is actually made out of formed ice and disappears each spring, when the haul season ends. That means they remake this road each and every year. As if the ice itself were not enough to deal with, the drivers must contend with unpredictable winter weather in the Arctic Circle. That means 60-mile-an-hour winds, blinding blizzards, whiteout conditions, and temperatures down to 50 below zero. Not enough of a challenge, you say? This road is also loaded with one dangerous obstacle after another. There’s the Beaver Slide, a few miles of almost straight-down ice. Try the Roller Coaster. That’s an area of inclines and declines with as much as an 11 degree angle. There’s places called The Taps, Atigun Pass, and several areas prone to snow avalanches. There’s only one rest stop along the route with any kind of facilities. You break down on this road and you could start losing fingers and toes. Over 400 truckers have lost their lives on this road in its 30-year history. This year the show expands to include a ride over a semi-frozen river to an isolated Inuit village where supplies can only be brought in for two months out of the year.
There are six drivers that the show follows on their trips up and down the Dalton. Sometimes they make it. Sometimes they break down or are stopped by severe weather conditions. There is an “unofficial” race to see who can get more hauls in during the short 3-month season. The drivers aren’t paid by the hour. They get paid by completed hauls. That means if they fall even a handful of miles short, there’s no pay. As the show’s saying goes: “If the wheels aren’t turning, nobody’s earning.” You can imagine these guys don’t take delays gracefully.
From last season we have four returning drivers:
Jack: He’s the ace of the group. He manages most of the crew’s more dangerous and oversized cargo.
Lisa: She’s a 28-year-old second-year driver who ends up being tougher than a lot of the guys. She’s just starting to get into the dangerous stuff, which this year included becoming a push driver. For extra heavy loads extra trucks are employed to push the load up the steep hills. She’s looking for respect in the toughest job on the haul road.
Alex: Alex is one of two Canadians from previous seasons of the show. Last year he had a heart attack while on the Canadian ice roads. Against his doctor’s advice, he’s back on the road, this time in Alaska, to try to prove he can still do it.
Hugh: He’s Alex’s rival from Canada. He calls himself the Polar Bear and is the arrogant one on the crew. He might have worn out his welcome at the haul road this season.
Season 4 newcomers:
Ray: Ray might be a rookie, but he knows how to haul. He has an up-and-down season, to be sure. His biggest problem is a short fuse that leads to some interesting misunderstandings and conflict with his fellow show rookie.
Greg: Greg is lucky to even have a job at this point. While he wasn’t part of the show last season, he did drive the haul road and had a pretty serious wreck. He got a second chance, but his decision-making isn’t any better. He’ll be lucky to end the season with his job. Of course, at the rate he smokes it’s 50/50 he’ll even be alive next year.
Each episode of Ice Road Truckers is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. The 1080p image is brought to you through an AVC/MPEG-4 codec. At first I didn’t expect that this kind of show could impress in high definition. Let’s be honest here. There’s not a lot of color. There is, however, a ton of white. But the white has many layers that I was astonished to discover handled quite nicely by this transfer. Black levels were deep and full of all kinds of shadow definition. There are some rather beautiful Alaskan vistas here that provide some stunning footage. A lot of the actual truck cameras are pretty much portables and deliver documentary-style footage.
The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Don’t look for much. It’s really a lot of dialog. The trucks come rushing through from time to time, but there’s not a ton of bottom end to this release. You can hear the talking. That’s about all that is expected from this kind of series.
Bonus Footage: (18:29) Rookie bios and additional time with the truckers on a variety of subjects.
Another season and another surprising good time. It’s one of those shows that I keep telling myself I really shouldn’t like. But each year I end up glued to the set once again, pulling multi-episode marathons and watching the time roll by like a runaway 18-wheeler coming down Atican Pass with no breaks. “A new ice road season has just begun.”