Ice Road Truckers - Season 7 (2013) is a big improvement, entertainment-wise, from its incredibly uneventful sixth season. The producers have tweaked the show's format to good effect, though it's also obviously less a "reality" show than ever.
As before, the better-than-they-ought-to-be collection of episodes follow truckers braving perilous temporary ice roads, delivering vital supplies to some of the most isolated communities in North America. In recent seasons Ice Road Truckers was at least partly set on the Dalton Highway in Alaska, but reportedly host Carlile Transportation gave the show's producers the old heave-ho, supposedly because of the risks they were asking Carlile's drivers to take for the sake of the cameras.
This season the show takes place entirely in Manitoba and, rather than in past seasons where drivers compete for the title King of the Ice Roads, there's an acrimonious rivalry between two shipping companies, Polar Industries (from Season 6) and VP Express, the latter explicitly formed (by conceited, juvenile veteran trucker Hugh Rowland) "to put Polar out of business."
This History Channel release, distributed by Lionsgate, includes the entire, 12-episode season (down from last year's 16) of roughly 45-minute episodes. They're presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen and the set includes 30 minutes of deleted scenes.
Left to Right: Alex Debogorski, Darrell Ward, Lisa Kelly, and Art Burke
Picking up where Season 6 left off, following a standoff between driver Hugh and Polar Industries, Hugh decides to open a rival trucking business literally just down the street. The newly christened VP Express hires Yellowknife native Art Burke and Washington State native Todd Dewey, new to the ice roads, while Alex, Lisa (controversially absent from Season 6), and Darrell go to work for Polar.
Art, with his backward baseball cap, tattoos, etc. looks like a geriatric rapper and, according to the show at least, is as much of a screw-up and perennial loser as IRT favorite Rick Yemm, last seen the previous season. Art can't catch a break. His truck breaks down endlessly, and he's frequently lost and/or stranded. As Art's boss, the completely self-absorbed Hugh is of absolutely no help at all. Art is fired (or he quits, depending upon whom one asks) and joins the Polar team where he has much better luck.
Despite his rookie status, Todd has the chops for ice road trucking and immediately impresses Hugh, though Todd isn't much impressed by Hugh's reckless driving. Darrell complains endlessly, threatening to leave Polar at one point for want of back-hauls, but he turns out to be their best and most reliable driver.
Though less visually dramatic than the Alaskan wilderness, the tiny Manitoba communities, which picturesque names like Gods Lake, Pukatawagan, Oxford House, and Waasagomach, are interesting, fiendishly remote places.
More than ever, the "reality" of this so-called reality series is debatable. In the season finale, for instance, one driver jackknifes his truck. Far be it from me to accuse the producers of staging the entire accident, but considering a stationary camera is perfectly positioned along the road in exactly the right spot to capture the event is, to say the least, highly suspect. It's also the driver's last run of the season, on his way back to Winnepeg and he's not carrying any valuable freight. Although the smashed-up cab is ruled "a total loss," I can all but guarantee the reader that the cost of replacing it didn't come out of Polar Industries' pocket.
It's also easy to forget that when, for example, Art's truck loses power and he becomes stranded in the middle of nowhere with nothing but an improvised campfire to get through the night, that just out of camera range (well, most of the time) there's at least one (heated) camera truck following him around at all times in addition to the cameraperson in the cab with Art. According to the show, Art "spent a cold night" alone in his unheated truck, but I doubt even the show's producers were about to let the comically inept driver endure a night of hypothermia.
Video & Audio
Ice Road Truckers - Season 7's 16:9 enhanced widescreen image is good throughout, showcasing the Canadian scenery well, while the 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo is strong for what it is. Optional English subtitles are included.
The only supplement is about 30 minutes worth of "bonus footage," deleted scenes, all of which are interesting though quite reasonably edited from the series.
A guilty pleasure bereft of any novelty in its seventh year but still entertaining and, taken with several big handfuls of salt, still quite interesting and even informative. Ice Road Truckers - Season 7 is mildly Recommended.
Stuart Galbraith IV is a Kyoto-based film historian whose work includes film history books, DVD and Blu-ray audio commentaries and special features. Visit Stuart's Cine Blogarama here.