Warner Bros. // R // $35.99 // January 19, 2010
Review by Adam Tyner | posted January 15, 2010
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So, there's that.
Don't get tripped up by the first ten minutes just 'cause Whiteout kicks off like a dumb, sleazy action flick. The movie opens with some Russian backstabbing fifty years in the rear view mirror, complete with sprays of gunfire, a breached cabin, and a big ol' jet airliner careening into the Antarctic. Flash forward a half-century to Kate Beckinsale stripping down to her skivvies, making it a point to bend over directly in front of the camera, and then hopping in the shower so her body double can do the whole obscured nudity thing. The opening shootout is the only time anyone whips out a gun and does anything with it for the rest of the movie, and all that scene really does is sap away any trace of intensity once the wreckage of the plane is unearthed somewhere in the second act. Oops. As for the skin, that's appreciated, sure, even with as hysterically gratuitous and wholly unnecessary as it is. Get your kicks while you can, though! Ms. Beckinsale spends the rest of the movie bundled up under eight inches of jackets and parkas, looking more like Frances McDormand in Fargo than the leather-corseted sexpot from Underworld.

So, shootout...sports bra...where was I? Oh, yeah. Not a whole helluva lot happens for another hour and a half, and then the image fades to black. Roll credits. The end.

Okay, okay. I guess something happens in between. It's just that none of it's particularly interesting, and that's what happens when you hand a couple of pretty much universally loved comic book miniseries over to the guy who directed Swordfish and Gone in 60 Seconds. Anyway, Kate Beckinsale stars as Carrie Stetko, a U.S. Marshall stationed in an Antarctic research facility. It's a thankless, pointless gig, and if Carrie weren't so tormented by some dark event in her past we'll eventually get to see in flashback, she'd probably be thrilled to dart out of this frostbitten hell-hole when the last plane takes off in two days. So, after months and months of entering blank entries in her daily reports, Carrie stumbles onto the first murder in the history of the continent. It sounds like some kind of epochal event, but her investigation sends her screaming head-on into Murder #2, and Carrie nearly lands the number three spot herself. Some masked maniac is hacking people apart with a pick axe, and when it happens in a flick that opens with Russkies gunning each other down and their airplane plowing into twenty feet of ice, the smart money says that'll probably divebomb into the plot again at some point too.

Nothing here really works. The screenplay overexplains the holy hell out of everything, the onslaught of flashbacks include peeks back at things that happened all of two minutes ago, and anyone who's ever sat through a thriller before will generally be at least a half hour ahead of Whiteout at all times. Its dialogue can really creak along (like one exchange where they say "Vostok" something like seven times in the space of twenty seconds), and it doesn't help so much that it's delivered by such a flat and wooden ensemble. Gabriel Macht might have it the worst, not content to ravage just one widely loved comic, and Kate Beckinsale's really better off not talking at all. Nice to look at...? Sure, but she's a bland, ineffective, unengaging lead. I
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seriously thought Tom Skeritt was Kris Kristofferson for a minute there too. Whiteout stomps all over the atmosphere and intrigue from the printed page, and what's left is a routine, paint-by-numbers thriller with an unconventional backdrop and no...um, actual thrills on the menu. You know how all this goes: a parade of red herrings, the probable love interest, a couple of frantic chases, the biggest name on the bill who was never pegged as a suspect is revealed as the mastermind behind the whole thing...whatever.

There's no hook at all. Thrill to scenes like Beckinsale slo-o-o-o-o-owly typing several dates in front of a computer terminal, and to show her findings to the one person in the base she trusts, she slo-o-o-o-o-owly retypes the exact same thing again. A lot of the action is increasingly indistinguishable people covered from head to toe trying to connect and disconnect hooks from a safety line. The pace is pretty glacial, and when I thought I'd finally hit the boiling point of the movie, it turned out to be a fake climax and that there were thirtysomething minutes still on the clock. Ack. Not only is the Pick Axe Killer not much of a credible threat, but the movie fails to eke much menace out of the Antarctic. The biting cold was a character in its own right in John Carpenter's remake of The Thing, and even though Whiteout is clearly taking a stab at the same, that angle is as limp and lifeless as everything else in the flick. As integral to the plot as it is, I just don't get that same sense of claustrophobia and looming danger that I did with The Thing. I was honestly kind of surprised to see in the extras that Whiteout was mostly shot on location -- with Canada subbing for the Antarctic, natch -- since ice and snow looks like it's been clumsily chroma keyed behind the cast as if this were The Daily Show or something. The movie looks low-rent all around, and the flashbacks to a drug bust gone bad in Miami -- especially a body tumbling out a window and toward the camera -- are howlingly inept.

There were literally only two moments where I stopped and thought, "oh, that's pretty cool": the black of the killer's parka gradually breaking through a blanket of white and seeing that Carrie has a Them! DVD on her dresser. Otherwise, Whiteout doesn't manage to hammer out any intrigue, any urgency, any...anything. I've suffered through worse thrillers, sure, and Whiteout is more aggressively routine than out-and-out bad. Still, why bother? The trade paperback collections of the comics are half the price and by all accounts twenty or thirty times better, so why bother with this mediocre, uninspired hackjob? Skip It.

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completely unlike the movie itself, Whiteout scores kind of an indifferent shrug on Blu-ray. The scope image is reasonably sharp and detailed, but vast, empty expanses of white don't exactly scream home theater eye candy, and the violent ice storms obscure so much of the detail that it can be tough at times to tell if this is high-def anyway. The additional resolution that Blu-ray has to offer isn't always a plus this time around, showcasing just how shoddy the digital effects work is, particularly the staggeringly poor CG airplane at the outset. In keeping with its setting, source material, and (I guess) its bleak tone, the bulk of the color has been drained away. The stylized flashbacks slather on a golden tint, blow out the contrast, and carve away at the clarity as a little visual flair, but...yeah, whatever.

It's not exactly the most filmic disc I've popped in my player recently; the texture is so clean and smooth that I thought for a while there that Whiteout had to have been shot digitally. Strangely enough, this is one of the few discs that looks better in the screenshots scattered around this review than it does splashed across my 60" Kuro. A few tighter shots are almost startlingly well-defined and overflowing with detail, but much of the rest settles for good but routine.

Whiteout is letterboxed to preserve its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.39:1, and its VC-1 encode fits on a single-layer Blu-ray disc with plenty of room to spare.

The 16-bit Dolby TrueHD soundtrack starts off impressively enough: the subwoofer reinforcing cracks of gunfire, slugs and spent shells zipping around the entire soundscape, the chaos of a cabin breach, a massive plane tumbling into the ice below...even a tracking shot following Kate Beckinsale as Carrie makes her way through the camp is bolstered by a really strong sense of directionality. The sound design kind of peters out from there, though. Things sporadically fly around, sure, and there are some meaty thuds as a body or two tumble from dizzying heights. Otherwise, it's cleanly-rendered dialogue front and center, a little stereo separation across the mains, and lots and lots and lots of wind howling from the surrounds. Even the score sounds awfully timid in the mix. Pretty routine once the counter ticks past the ten minute mark.

Whiteout also serves up Dolby Digital 5.1 dubs in French and Spanish. It's the usual stack of subtitles this time around too: English (SDH), French, and Spanish.

  • Deleted Scenes (4 min.; SD): This
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    Blu-ray disc only tosses on two deleted scenes. The first actually would've been a great fit with the early part of the flick, lobbing out a quick gag and highlighting just how empty and meaningless Carrie's stint in the Antarctic really is. The other shows the Vostok base not being deserted so much and is definitely better off scattered all over the cutting room floor.

  • The Coldest Thriller Ever (12 min.; HD): The first of Whiteout's featurettes devotes a big chunk of its runtime to the grueling shoot around Lake Manitoba: an area so unrelentingly cold that the temperatures at times were lower than the story's backdrop of the South Pole. "The Coldest Thriller Ever" touches on set design and how the punishing weather impacted production, and from there it moves to the climax lensed in a Montréal soundstage, complete with a set of computerized winches to fling the cast around. As making-of featurettes go, this one's decent enough, I guess.

  • Whiteout: From Page to Screen (12 min.; HD): Greg Rucka, the writer behind the original comics, is the driving force of the last of the thin extras on this disc. Rucka delves into the germ of an idea that spawned the story as well as the development of its central characters. Steve Lieber briefly contributes his thoughts about the texture he brought to his artwork, putting particular emphasis on the drive to make the inhuman cold a character in its own right. "From Page to Screen" is primarily about the four issue limited series, but there is some chatter about the long-in-coming process of bringing it to theaters. Rucka responds to Kate Beckinsale being cast as the fairly plain Carrie Stetko he'd written, and we also catch a quick peek at Rucka and Lieber taking a tour of the set. The bits about the adaptation just seem like they're getting in the way, really, but the first half is worth a look.
The second disc in the set is a digital copy for use on iTunes and Windows Media-powered devices. For anyone keeping track at home, Whiteout comes packaged in a cardboard slipcase.

The Final Word
For a flick that Joel Silver touts as "the coldest thriller ever made!", Whiteout is kinda room temperature. It's not unwatchable or anything, but Whiteout botches the exceptional atmosphere from the original comics, it's saddled with a wooden cast, and what little is supposed to pass for intrigue and action never manage to get the blood pumping. C'mon, the Whiteout trades are better and half the sticker price anyway, so Skip It.

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