Tuesday, February 12, 2019


Holy crap, you can see the Kendall from the street again!

Arctic wound up being sort of a last-minute detour, as another theater reshuffled their screens to give The Wandering Earth a lot more showtimes than it originally had, wiping what I'd planned to see out, so while I was going to see the movie later rather than at the screening with a guest that I assumed would sell out, well, might as well give it a shot.

I got in, but with the movie starting so it was easiest to grab the front row, which was a bit of an interesting perspective, even for a "try and make sure you're using your entire field of vision" guy like myself. I think, to a certain extent, it enhanced the film, in how I sometimes had to do a careful scan to figure out where the action was and that magnified the feeling of the characters being swallowed by the field of snow and ice, but I get how some folks may not go for that. It probably helped that screen #1 has the best projection at the Kendall, although I don't know that they got a 4K DCP of this one.

Anyway, as promised, co-writer/editor Ryan Morrison:

Morrison is, I gather, a relatively local guy who had been working with director Joe Penna on a YouTube channel for years only to find that the ability to make money off such a thing has evaporated as Google changed the monetization rules, which had them anxious to try and create something similar in a new medium, with a similar emphasis on aiming for universal appeal and relatively few words. They weren't striving to get it down to a single line as was the case with Robert Redford in All Is Lost (a film that came up a few times in the Q&A), but they wanted something that could be told visually to the extent it was possible.

So they came up with a script called "On Mars", only to be shown the trailer for The Martian, which may have led them down a better path, as setting things in Iceland (or some other northern latitude) let them pull a lot of exposition out and focus on the characterization. Interestingly, they wrote up a whole bunch of backstory for Mads Mikkelsen to read, and he tossed it, feeling that if it wasn't going to be on the screen, it didn't need to be quite so specific, which went back to their ideas about keeping it universal - this wasn't meant to be about Overgard surviving as a way to resolve something in his past, but just about the act itself.

Mikkelsen was apparently down for whatever was on tap, with the biggest diva on set Agee the polar bear. The filmmakers apparently had to talk to the trainer's girlfriend because the beast is very possessive of the trainer himself. They also couldn't have any food on set for days before Agee was there, lest she smell it, or even have water bottles, because Agee would think it's food and try to take it.

The whole bit with the polar bear, they pointed out, was an example of how studio notes are not necessarily a bad thing - the need for something actively dangerous was what took them from "almost there" to the script really working.

Anyway, it's a neat one and I'm glad I got to see the Q&A after all. And, hey, they're finally actually showing the thing I intended to see now!


* * * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 8 February 2019 in Landmark Kendall Square #2 (first-run, DCP)

There's often not a whole lot to say about this sort of survival adventure, especially if it's pulled off as well as Arctic is. You admire the difficult conditions, note how well the star communicates what's going on in his head with looks and body language, maybe try and find some other theme, and eventually decide that to a certain extent, the movie defies analysis because it's about a visceral experience. It can seem either very easy or like an impossible bit of alchemy because it feels like something anyone could do given the right location, and it's hard to pin down what makes a given attempt great.

And, yes, this one was quite clearly shot sompleace awfully cold and isolated, and Mads Mikkelsen is great at showing emotion by how his survivor does things rather than by delivering lines. It's inevitably and unapologetically that movie. It throws a bit of a curve in how it's built by starting out with Mikkelsen's pilot, Overgard, already doing what he can to scratch out survival, avoid the polar bear whose territory he has invaded, and try to attract rescue when the film starts, only for a second crash to set things in motion, which is kind of clever in terms of leading with the methodical grind rather than giving a false impression of what the film will be with spectacle. From there, it goes in a familiar direction - the able-bodied person crossing the ice with an injured companion, bits of how-to, animal attacks and dangerous terrain.

But the details are good. The most important ones, which arguably drive the entire film, are the ones that give a sense of the preciousness of life in all circumstances but especially this one. The first time the audience sees Overgard catch a fish, he holds it for a moment, wordlessly considering that this living thing will have to die to feed him. At the other end of the film, a pale pink bloom peeking out from the blinding white of the snow and ice around it reminds him of the principles he's about to defy. The filmmakers have Overgard demonstrate a great deal of ingenuity but never any sort of foolish pride in doing without.

Full review at EFC.

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