Despite its schlock premise, Fred Schepisi's Iceman is a different kettle of fish altogether, a big-budget attempt to look at what might really happen if a Neanderthal were discovered preserved in a block of ice and somehow brought back to life. Not that that's the original intention when scientists at a Canadian Arctic mining station start a dissection that suddenly turns into a resuscitation in a scene that varies between the unexpected, intriguing and achingly drawn out in a way that sets the tone for the rest of the film's strengths and weaknesses.
In many ways it feels more like a Peter Weir film than an Schepisi one, as if producers Norman Jewison and Patrick Palmer accidentally hired the wrong Aussie. The emphasis is on the conflict between pure science (represented by Lindsay Crouse) and a more spiritual approach to unlocking the iceman's secrets (represented by anthropologist Timothy Hutton) because "Maybe his spirit can teach us more than his flesh," with John Lone's confused living fossil trying to make sense of the new world he finds himself while others argue over his fate and whether he's a human being or merely a laboratory specimen. Unfortunately the film never quite manages to be as compelling as it could, with the emphasis on realism often translating into long slow patches that make it a film that's often easier to approve of than really enjoy. Flitting between failure and success, and often for the same reasons, it's a film that's easier to appreciate after you've seen it than while you're watching it, but its still a worthwhile one.
At times it plays almost like a benign version of The Thing with a lower body count (there is one violent escape attempt that's handled surprisingly credibly even if it does feel it was added purely to add a bit of excitement). Yet there's much to recommend, from Lone's extraordinarily physical performance and the interesting supporting cast (David Strathairn, Danny Glover, Josef Sommer, James Tolkan) to the truly extraordinary imagery at the beginning and end of the picture. And it's definitely worth seeing for moments like the beautiful title sequence of the frozen iceman being flown across breathtaking Canadian Arctic terrain, where Ian Baker's superb Scope photography combines with Bruce Smeaton's hauntingly primitive Shakuhachi-led score (later effectively ripped off by James Horner in Willow) to create something unforgettably beautiful. Of course, you can only see it in its original 2.35:1 Scope ratio on the UK or Australian DVDs, since Universal have only seen fit to release it panned-and-scanned in the US despite releasing a letterboxed laser disc in the past...
No extras on the DVD.