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Whiteout (2009)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/19/2010

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/18/2010

Get it on DVD, Blu-ray Disc and Download January 19th!

Something that many filmmakers don't take seriously, but they certainly should, is trying to bring something original to a movie. Despite the fact that general audiences don't seem to mind, after over a century of film, movies are far too samey-samey. So, when a movie offers something new, no matter how insignificant that newness may be to the script. Whiteout takes an old idea and puts it in a (sort of) unique location. Can the movie take this opportunity and dazzle the audience?

Whiteout is set at a U.S. science research outpost in Antarctica, where the temperature is routinely sixty-five degrees below zero. Due to the constant storms which can blanket the area, the station is virtually uninhabitable during "winter". As the time for the crew to depart gets close, U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale), who is assigned to the location, gets word from a pilot that there is a body on the ice. She has pilot Delfy (Columbus Short) take her and Dr. John Fury (Tom Skerritt) to the site, where she finds a corpse belonging to a geologist. She learns that the dead man was part of a team which looked for meteorites on the ice. As she digs deeper, it becomes clear that a killer is on the loose in Antarctica. John urges Carrie to drop the matter and leave the station as planned. However, Carrie is a determined individual and wants to catch the murderer, even if it means taking the risk of freezing to death.

Whiteout joins a long list of movies which was announced, shot and then not released for years. The movie was shot in early 2007, but not officially released until September, 2009. (And for once, it's not a movie from the Weinsteins!) Knowing this, I really wasn't sure what to expect from the film. Typically, these films are the train-wrecks which they have been made out to be, but there have been a few which I thought were falsely mis-judged. Where would Whiteout stand?

At the outset, I was surprised that this was a "shelved" movie, as it was fairly interesting and certainly a lot better than many other movies which I've seen. One things which Whiteout definitely had going for it was the location. I've never seen a murder-mystery set in Antarctica, so this gave the movie a novel quality. (Obviously, many other movies, most notably John Carpenter's The Thing, have been set in Antarctica, but this is essentially a straight-forward murder-mystery which just happens to be set in the coldest place on Earth.) The acting was fine, and it was nice to see Kate Beckinsale playing someone who had more self-doubt than confidence. Although, I have to wonder if Tom Skerritt was purposely trying to look like Kris Kristoferson.

But, as Whiteout progressed, the problems started to become obvious. Movies like this, one which has been shelved and then suddenly released, have often been edited over and over again to try and save the movie. This often results in a movie which has been whittled down so much that it's barely feature length. This isn't the case with Whiteout, as it has a running time of 101 minutes, and it feels as if it could use some editing. First of all, there are way too many establishing shots. Not since Creatures from the Abyss have I seen so many unnecessary shots of the story's location. We know that the characters are trapped in the research station, but the movie insists on showing us the outside of the buildings between and sometimes during scenes. Secondly, the first thirty minutes just jumps into the story with little background information. This may not sound like a complaint, but the movie almost plays like a sequel, as if we already know all of these people and what they are doing. These problems may have been excusable if the finale had been better. A fight scene out in the elements seems to go on forever and we're treated to shot after shot of character attaching and disconnecting themselves from the guide ropes. Any possible suspense is quick sucked out of the scene and I kept waiting for a voice to say, "Brought to You by the Council on Guide-rope Safety".

As with seemingly every movie these days, Whiteout is based on a comic bo...I mean graphic novel, and the core story is fairly interesting. This is actually bad news, as this means that there was once a good movie somewhere inside of this film. What we are left with is a movie with a unique premise and a handful of good scenes which quickly devolves into a poorly edited mess. The title refers to a weather condition which makes it so that nothing can be seen. That's not a bad idea in this case.

Whiteout really needs to remember to put on its gloves on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 17 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. Given the fact that much of the film takes place with a white background, the lack of grain is impressive. The colors which do appear in the film look good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The image has a nice amount of detail and the landscape shots show nice depth. The Disc carries a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. For a Dolby track, the sound is pretty good here. The stereo effects are nicely detailed and show good separation. During the action scenes, most notably the opening sequence, the surround sound is very good, nicely mirroring the on-screen action. The action scenes also provide some mild, but effective subwoofer action.

The Whiteout Blu-ray Disc contains only a few extras. "The Coldest Thriller Ever" (12 minutes) is a making-of featurette which focuses on the cold conditions in which the film was shot. The actors and crew talk about shooting in the harsh cold and how this made for a unique story. "Whiteout: From Page to Screen" (12 minutes) contains interviews with graphic novel creators Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber who discuss the influences on the comic and what it was like to see the film. The Disc contains DELETED SCENES which run about 4 minutes. Both show Stetko at her job and give us a better idea of how mundane it is and how resourceful she is.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long