Based on the novel by Rick Moody, Ang Lee’s The Ice Storm is a film about the things we think we know. New Canaan, Connecticut is the picture of affluence and prosperity. On the outside, the Hood and Carver families appear to fit in perfectly. In truth, they are coming apart.

The year is 1973, during the Thanksgiving holiday. The country was still dealing with the aftermath of the Vietnam War, and President Nixon’s administration was beginning to crumble as the Watergate scandal intensified. With trust in government giving way to disillusionment, the stability of the American family was also wavering, with the divorce rate skyrocketing to its current level of 50%. For the first time, it wasn’t unusual for kids to have to face the fact that their parent’s might not stay together.

The Ice StormAng Lee’s film looks at two families in this precarious position. They’re the Hoods—Elena (Joan Allen) her husband Ben (Kevin Kline), son Paul (Tobey Maguire), and daughter Wendy (Ricci)—and the Carvers: Janey (Sigourney Weaver), Jim (Jamey Sheridan), and their sons Mikey (Elijah Wood) and Sandy (Adam Hann-Byrd). Neighbors and friends, the two clans have a decidedly complex relationship. Ben and Janey are having an affair; though she clearly regards him as little more than a warm body. Elena, who suspects what’s going on, is tempted by a longhaired progressive minister, and is so confused that she’s caught shoplifting.

While all the parents are distracted in their search for companionship, the kids are coming of age without any real guidance. Wendy explores her own sexuality with one of the Carver boys, as her father waits for his mother upstairs. Throughout the film, the young actors do a fine job of balancing maturity with youthful exuberance. Christina Ricci especially, manages to make Wendy the perfect blend of little Lolita and burgeoning feminist.

The ice storm hits the day after Thanksgiving. That evening, Paul Hood goes into New York City for a date with the girl of his dreams, Libbets Casey (Katie Holmes), only to find that his boarding school roommate has been invited on the date as well. Already at the point of divorce, the Hoods attend a local gathering that turns out to be a ‘key party’: consenting couples agree to sleep with whoever’s key is pulled from a serving dish.

The ice storm serves as the final straw; the point at which the adults must act like the grownups they’re supposed to be and make some difficult, yet necessary decisions. A terrible tragedy during the storm means they can no longer use meaningless sex to cover up the boredom and disappointment of their lives; Elena, Ben, Janey and Jim are going to have to face some hard truths.

Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Criterion’s Ang Lee approved 1080p transfer delivers an impressive presentation. The somewhat gaudy colors of the seventies come shining through, as do the wintry tones. Black levels are superb. The level of detail is impressive, showing off the textural look of things. This fine transfer really gives you a sense of 1973.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track does a great job, making the dialogue the central focus of things. Separation is sparkling, and the limited effects come through clearly, without ever distracting from the voices.

English SDH subtitles are available.

Special features:

Note: All of the extras from the 2007 DVD release have been ported over here, with no new additions.

  • Audio Commentary with director Ang Lee and producer and screenwriter James Schamus: The two have a lot of nice things to say about the actors, various stories from the set, a discussion of the characters, and more.
  • Weathering the Storm: The Making of The Ice Storm: (SD, 36:09) Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Joan Allen, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci, and Elijah Wood discuss their characters, their initial impressions of Ang Lee, his directing style, the film’s reception and its mishandling by the studio that produced it, etc.
  • Rick Moody on Adapting The Ice Storm (SD, 21:22) The author discusses his book, and the differences in the film.
  • The Look of The Ice Storm: Three audio interviews with people responsible for the look and atmosphere of the film. Each interview is illustrated with clips and stills from the film and design drawings. DP Frederick Elmes (13:36), production designer Mark Friedberg (14:00) and costume designer Carol Oditz (8:24).
  • Deleted Scenes: Four in total.
  • Lee and Schamus at the Museum of the Moving Image (32:08) Director Ang Lee and producer and screenwriter James Schamus discuss their professional relationship in this filmed conversation with David Schwartz of New York’s Museum of the Moving Image.
  • Trailer: (SD) Original trailer.
  • Booklet: An illustrated booklet featuring an essay by film critic Bill Krohn.