“Nature did not intend for you to survive out here. But here you are, and here I am to teach you how not to die…”
Whiteout has taken about as long and hard a road getting made as the characters in the film find themselves on stuck in the Antarctic. It began life as a crude graphic novel written by Greg Rucka and drawn by Steve Lieber. It developed a rather loyal cult following and was conceived as a film at around 2002. At one point it was intended as the launching point for a franchise featuring the federal marshal played by Kate Beckinsale. She might have been producer Joel Silver’s first choice to play the character, as he has been heard to say. But the part was originally created for Reese Witherspoon. There were countless troubles developing a script, and studio support came and went throughout the period. Even when the film was ready to go with a street date, some troubles caused the release itself to delay its opening. Usually all of these development troubles spell disaster for a film in the end. Whiteout is no exception to that steadfast rule. The film scored a disastrous $10 million at the box and only $1 million foreign on a $35 million budget, and disappeared faster than your footprints in an Arctic blizzard.
“Core body temperatures have fallen to approximately 97 degrees. Thinking is impaired. Motor skills failing. You are, in short, gentlemen, well on your way to dying, and it’s only been three minutes.”
The film begins promisingly enough. We’re treated to an exciting flashback to a Russian cargo plane deep in the heart of the Cold War in 1957. Whatever they’re carrying, we know it has to be hot when all-out gunfire breaks out on board. Any idiot can tell you that planes and bullets are a bad combination, and the plane goes down somewhere in Antarctica. The next thing we know we’re swept back to the present with a rather leisurely scene of Kate Beckinsale as Marshal Carrie Stetko preparing for a shower. All of you Beckinsale fans out there who were expecting a little more Kate better get your looks in now, because for the rest of the film it’s parkas and fur-lined hoods. And for more reasons than one, the film simply goes downhill hard from here.
Each development comes with painfully slow pacing. The characters do a whole lot of talking, often finding it necessary to go over the same ground numerous times. You’ll figure out the bad guy in less than 45 minutes. I did. Even the ultimate reveal of the precious cargo is somewhat of a letdown. Without revealing the contents, I can assure you it is far more mundane than we’re led to believe. When there is action, it happens in such horrible conditions that we don’t really see what’s going on. Add to that the fact that everyone’s in parkas so you can’t tell who is who at times.
“Our greatest hazard out here: The Whiteout. An unholy set of weather conditions converge, and the world falls away. Winds over 100 miles an hour skip off the ice out there and kick up snow so thick you can’t see 6 inches in front of your face.”
There are four writers given credit on the screenplay. At least two others had passes at the material. Whether it’s a case of too many cooks or just the fact that no one got it right, I can’t tell you. But, the end result is some of the biggest waste of talent I’ve seen in a long time. It’s not just Kate Beckinsale who is wasted here. Tom Skerritt is usually a lot better than this. And it’s not just the cramped quarters and limited sets or environment that handcuffed him here. As I recall he did quite an excellent job in a similar setting at the end of the 70’s on a mining ship with the likes of Sigourney Weaver. Alex O’Loughlin shares having played a vampire with his female co-star, but here he shows why his bloodsucker was limited to television, and not for very long at that. He’s rather dispassionate here and creates a character that never once comes alive. There are some rather nice supporting roles by the likes of Gabriel Macht as a UN Security Officer and Steve Lucescu as a key member of the team. But no amount of talent can spare this film from the most barren wasteland on the planet. I’m not talking about Antarctica here. I’m talking about the script.
“You can lose yourself completely out there and be gone.”
I will readily admit that the locations for this shoot are often beautifully photographed. That is until many of the CG weather elements are added. There is a rather unbelievable aspect in the character presentations. We’re told it’s 65 degrees below zero Celsius, yet the characters’ faces are almost always exposed. You won’t even see a tinge of redness or freezing on them. Certainly, I understand that you don’t hire Kate Beckinsale to cover up her face. Perhaps it was a wasted move. If you look at the original graphic novel, the character is rather unattractive. The early plane crash uses an obvious CG rendition that doesn’t come close to convincing. There is a decided lack of texture common with bad CG effects. The real shame is that these guys froze their behinds off for nothing.
Whiteout is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with a VC-1 codec at an average 28 mbps. This really isn’t a good film for high definition. The scenery is really just white, and the costumes are all rather drab. There just isn’t any color at all here. I will say that it might have been unwatchable on DVD. Too many scenes are presented under very bad conditions. There’s CG snow whipping all about. There’s too much color correction. If there had been the added trouble of digital compression, it would have just been the final straw to break this bleak presentation irreparably. As it is, you will have to struggle to watch this thing. That might be fine if the effort were even close to worth it.
The DTS-HD Master audio is a mixed bag. The opening plane action is alive with bright surrounds as gunfire erupts and bounces off the plane’s surfaces. The impact and depressurization are quite convincing. Once the film settles in, however, there’s really just dialog and a lot of wind shear, which I found tedious very quickly. Dialog is fine inside, but outside the wind noises dominate everything. Yeah. That’s natural. But I kind of wanted to hear what people were saying. Possibly the filmmakers realized it didn’t matter.
You get a separate disc which contains a digital copy of the film. The extras are all in HD, except the Deleted Scenes.
Deleted Scenes: (4:14) There are two with no option to see them individually. There is a rather amusing scene where Carrie responds to a lab tech who complains that his marijuana was stolen.
The Coldest Thriller Ever: (12:02) Cast and crew relate stories about filming in remote Canada and the harsh environment. Who doesn’t want to see footage of Kate Beckinsale falling on her rump a few times?
Whiteout From Page To Screen: (12:05) Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber talk about the graphic novel and its origins. There’s a lot of compare and contrast here with the cast and crew offering their takes as well.
I’m predisposed to like a Kate Beckinsale film, much to my wife’s displeasure, I’m sure. So imagine my surprise that this one turned out to be such a dud. Again, you can’t fault the cast here. This is just a very badly written film. There’s just no way around it. Add to that that it is just very difficult to actually see key scenes, and I’m afraid you’re wasting your time on this one. It’s not just that you can’t see, it’s “bad enough that you don’t want to see”.