Ice People is a documentary about a scientific expedition to Antarctica. Two geologists and two of their student assistants spend two to three months isolated in an area that has as good a claim as any to be “the last place on Earth,” “the middle of nowhere,” “the end of the world,” etc. They spend their time exploring the area around their camp, looking for fossils, plant life, and other evidence in an effort to find out more about the area and its history.
It is the type of minimalist documentary with little in the way of context or background, and only a modest amount of dialogue. But lots of shots of the snowy expanse of Antarctica.
This film frankly didn’t do much for me. First of all, while there’s certainly a forbidding beauty to the environment, in part it only feels that way if I remind myself where they are and how isolated they are from any inhabited area. Because they’re not in Antarctica in the most extreme weather (understandably); they’re there in the summer. It’s not like they’re trudging through waist-deep snow every day. The one time the temperature is mentioned it’s 20 degrees. So basically it looks like your typical, not unusually severe, winter day in Montana. Not particularly extreme conditions.
Related to that, this is no gripping endurance test, at least not physically. The main struggle is the social/psychological one of being confined for an extended period with a limited number of people and very little to do. They have to contend with the dangers of boredom, and the challenge of not getting on each other’s nerves since no one can leave. That’s mildly interesting to observe, but no more than that.
There’s also very little in the way of a storyline to follow. They’re not going on a journey with a definite beginning and end, they’re not on any great quest. The scientific data they’re gathering is important in its way, but it’s not like there’s some very specific mystery they’re trying to solve, and the movie is about whether they’ll manage to do so by some dramatic deadline. The more relevant data they gather the better, as it takes science incrementally forward, but what degree of success this expedition achieves is not exactly suspenseful.
What little dialogue there is is actually fairly interesting. I enjoyed the descriptions of scientific methodology, as well as the discussions of the human side of their all being cooped up there together. The problem is that stuff’s explored only minimally.
This film is quite short for a feature length documentary, not even an hour and twenty minutes. Yet even at that it feels overlong.
The scenery is worthwhile, but a little of that goes a long way. Five or ten minutes of it is good; an hour or more is tedious. The intriguing dialogue scattered throughout the film only totals a few minutes.
So for my tastes what we’ve got here is enough material for a very good fifteen minute film (five to ten minutes of dialogue; five to ten minutes of striking shots of the Antarctic wasteland). Unfortunately the film’s an hour longer than that.