Like the narrator says, "the ice road truckers are back" for another season of nail-biting near-accidents and other calamities in Ice Road Truckers - The Complete Season Four (2010), an entertaining if overly-familiar collection of ginned-up "reality." It's basically a retread of the previous season - with the same Dalton Highway, Alaska setting - and with but a few new faces and extra-dangerous side roads to maneuver. It's so been-there/done-that that it plays less like a new season and more like a "Special Director's Cut" of the old one. Perhaps sensing this, producer-narrator Thom Beers immediately followed his season four finale with a new, up-the-ante spin-off, IRT: Deadliest Roads, which radically shifted the concept away from ice roads entirely to the Indian Himalayas where conditions were even more treacherous. Of course, that very danger is part of the unspoken appeal of shows like this - the possibility that its cast of real-life drivers might not make it out alive, like circus performers sticking their heads between the deadly jaws of a ferocious lion.
The program plays this up, implying much more that it actually delivers; in researching this review I ran across a promo for IRT: Deadliest Roads ghoulishly reeling in viewers with images of a dead trucker's corpse covered with a sheet - could it be ambitious long-hauler Lisa Kelly, the narrator asks? All this would be incredibly tasteless if it also weren't so hilariously cheesy, if slick and eye-grabbing.
In short: more of the same. If you liked Ice Road Truckers - The Complete Season Three, chances are pretty good you'll enjoy this set, too.
This New Video release includes all 16 (three up from last season) 46-minute episodes on four discs. The high-def presentation (with 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio) is fairly impressive, though extras are limited to deleted scenes/additional footage.
After two seasons of trucking in Canadian hinterlands, for season three Ice Road Truckers moved to Alaska's deadly Dalton Highway, with its cast hauling supplies from a base in Fairbanks nearly 500 miles north to the remote Prudhoe Bay oil fields and, sometimes, across the frozen, cracked ice of the Arctic Ocean to an off-shore oil rig. The company and its drivers raced to move 6,000 loads before the ice melted between the rig and shore and became inaccessible. For season four, side trips to Bettles and Nuiqsut, Alaska (population 39 and 367, respectively) have been added. So inaccessible is Bettles, for instance, the only land-route involves driving across a barely-frozen river.
Despite all the danger, genuinely the drivers are extremely safe and cautious, and in truth most hauls are actually pretty uneventful. To counter this, the show uses obvious devices to generate some suspense: ominous music, hyperbolic narration, and every editing trick in the book to suggest much more peril than is actually there. Indeed, Ice Road Truckers recalls the Republic serials of the 1940s in the way they use cheaply-done CGI effects of huge trucks crashing through guardrails and flying off the sides of cliffs, just like the miniature effects by Republic's Howard and Theodore Lydecker 70 years ago.
Fortunately, what keeps Ice Road Truckers grounded is its cast of colorful and generally appealing characters: series veterans (since season one) and perennial rivals Hugh Rowland and Alex Debogorski make an interesting contrast. Debogorski, a deeply religious man with a wife and 11 children, is easy-going and able to laugh at himself, while Rowland is a conceited, short-tempered blowhard that refuses to play by the rules. Petite Lisa Kelly struggles in this virtually all-male profession; as she says, working twice as hard to win half as much respect. Her intense drive to take on bigger and more challenging loads is a major part of the show's appeal. Jack Jesse, king of the Dalton long-haulers, has incredible stamina but doesn't take unnecessary risks: he's the tortoise to Rowland's reckless hare, as demonstrated in one episode especially.
Season four adds two rookie drivers, Greg Boadwine, a cocky 27-year-old whose first year on the Dalton ended when he overturned his truck. Ray Veilleux is more self-conscious, but makes many of the same mistakes as Boadwine and has terrible luck in the first-half of the season.
Video & Audio
Filmed in 1080i high-definition video, Ice Road Truckers is variable picture-wise but generally pleasing to the eye, and the northern Alaska scenery is spectacular; for a modestly budgeted reality series, Ice Road Truckers really comes off well. The DTS-HD 2.0 master audio is loud and varied, up to contemporary reality series standards. Optional English subtitles are included.
The only supplement is about 18 minutes worth of "additional footage," all of which are interesting though quite reasonably edited from the series.
Though enthusiasm waned a bit and the freshness of earlier seasons has just about evaporated, Ice Road Truckers is for all its faults cheesy and, sometimes, even informative fun. Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV's latest audio commentary, for AnimEigo's Musashi Miyamoto DVD boxed set, is on sale now.