The chance to see the film on Blu-ray was one I couldn't refuse, especially since Dominc Sena directed it, and it starred Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Tom Skerritt and Alex O'Loughlin. Why so interested in Sena? Well he did direct Kalifornia, Gone in Sixty Seconds and Swordfish, he knows slick action.
At the same time as the base begins to pack up and leave, the U.S. Marshal receives a call to investigate a body that has been found in the middle of nowhere. It seems there's a killer somewhere on the base, and the Marshal has to track them down before the storm draws in, a storm that's moving in fast.
Something I noticed early on was the visual style. There are a number of special effects scenes showing the backdrop of the harsh Antarctica environment that managed to push me right back to reality. It doesn't look quite real, and has you watching the backgrounds and wondering if they are actually real or not. There seems to be a strange sheen to some of them, such as the sunset/rise while Dr. John Fury, played by Tom Skerritt, is dressing down the freezing new recruits experiencing the effects of the extreme cold. It seemed slightly unreal, overly colourised and painted, and had me focussing on them whenever they appeared.
A similar effect was happening during some of the snow scenes and moments where we could see the breath of the characters, and I couldn't decide whether it was real or CG, and so I ended up watching them and trying to figure it out rather than enjoying the film.
So it's strange that when the whiteout arrives at the base and around the characters that some of these scenes look really good, considering how some of the smaller, earlier scenes looked and felt. Perhaps that's where the effects money was spent first.
However the effects are never really bad, they just go between good and not quite right, and it's the not quite right moments that stop you believing while the rest of the film is trying to pull you back in.
Despite these issues with the CG, there are some really well filmed scenes, especially within limited sets. There's a great use of practical make-up effects, just watching the scene of the frostbitten hand and the doctor working on it is incredible and had me wincing away from the screen.
The film is actually a good thriller for the most part. There are some well thought through character arcs and endings, and the overall storyline delivers well. There are a couple of clichés, but nothing that's glaringly hurtful to the film. I did find myself being taken on board by the story and the twists and turns behind the Marshal's investigation.
Some of the story developments do provide for some tense and exciting sequences that take advantage of the extreme conditions. In some scenes there's a feeling that I remember from John Carpenter's The Thing, where the extreme cold became a threatening character within the story, and many of the scenes battling the cold give those same feelings.
The frosbite scene is rather shocking and surprising, and not just for the practical effects mentioned earlier, but for the effect on the character and the change of direction in the story, as well as giving you an emotional connection with the character.
Kate Beckinsale is rather good in the role, and doesn't get too over glamourised, although to be fair the opening shower scene was a little over the top for her and felt a bit at odds with the character and the film.
Gabriel Macht and Tom Skerritt are good in their roles, Macht more so, as Skerritt's role takes a little while to really come to life, but I really do like the fact that one of the main relationships between the lead characters is one of friendship. I imagine it would have been foremost on the Hollywood producers lips to have the doctor played by a younger character and have a more physical relationship appear between the two. However they didn't do this, and in fact there are no real physical relationships for the character of the Marshal, and that's such a good thing to see and a strength for the film.
That said, I would have liked to have seen more character development of some of the characters around that of the Marshal. There is a feeling that these other characters have been shaved somewhat to build on the main one and keep her the focus of the film, in a way that's good because the female lead is left to do just that, but the other characters become a little thinner and a bit more predictable.
Some of the film though seemed a little clean, a little too sanitised, and this harks back to the feeling of the CG backgrounds being a little too distinct from the people in the fore. In some cases it doesn't feel that the two are in the same location, and that sheen and separation just makes it feel a little too CG and tidy.
I do think that some of the characters, Beckinsale included, and the film itself, could have done with being a little rougher, a little more real, a bit like the environment would have been on the characters and locations in real life.
When the camera is inside locations there's plenty of detail from the actors to the sets to fill the depth of the Blu-ray screen. It also copes well with the whiteout conditions and the dark interiors, however the Blu-ray actually heightens the poorer CG moments and draws more attention to the backgrounds, snow and breath scenes which are either all CG or have been heightened with effects.
People have said that Blu-ray is going to hurt good looking actors and actresses - I think not, I think the detail and character enhances their natural beauty, as it did with Beckinsale in this film, but I think it hurts the CG more and puts more pressure on that area of film-making more than anything.
5.1 DTS HD Master, Stereo 1.0 LCPM
There's a strong use of audio through the film, although during some of the quieter dialogue scenes the volume was being cranked up only to be turned down again for action moments. The ambient sounds made use of the rears well with plenty of spacial awareness in the audio track, and it did do a great job of pulling you into the film.
Menu, Whiteout: The Coldest Thriller Ever, Whiteout: From Page to Screen, Deleted Scenes
Whiteout: The Coldest Thriller Ever
This is a pretty standard marketing featurette about the film and the production, although there are a few inside comments from producers and actors, and a fair bit from Kate Beckinsale herself.
Whiteout: From Page to Screen
Here we get a strong analysis of the transfer of the story from the original comic book, and it contains plenty of captures and comparisons from the panels and film scenes, and almost wholly the writer and artist from the graphic novel talking about the story, the comic, and the location. Then it pulls in people from the film and brings the two views together. An interesting little feature to entice you into buying the graphic novel, and it might just work.
A couple of scenes, none of which are that exciting or add that much to the story, which is a little disappointing.
The menu provides a nice connection with the film, something more than the average menu.
I actually enjoyed Whiteout, I know it's gained a fair degree of criticism, but it's a pretty good thriller. There are some weaker parts to the film and parts that could equally be stronger, but it does deliver what you start out looking for and does well to bring in the outside environment as a strong character in itself. Good effort, but could have been stronger, and made much better by having Beckinsale, Macht and Skerritt.