½/**** Image B- Sound B Extras D
starring Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Columbus Short, Tom Skerritt
screenplay by Jon Hoeber & Eric Hoeber and Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes
directed by Dominic Sena
by Walter Chaw The first thing you notice about Whiteout is that it looks like shit. Though it was shot on location in Manitoba (subbing for Antarctica), they could've saved everyone the trouble and shot it in a green warehouse for all that anything in the film resembles anywhere outside. Not unreal, merely artificial. Take the moment, for example, when unbelievably-hot U.S. Marshal Carrie Stetko (Kate Beckinsale) and cohort Dr. John Fury (Tom Skerritt, well into the Kris Kristofferson portion of his career) discover the body that will be the centre of their stupid investigation into the film's stupid mystery. The middle of an ice canyon, it looks more like something out of a Quatermass flick, sixty years old on a shoestring, and it only gets worse when we come to sepia-toned flashbacks trying to explain why Stetko is damaged goods and, therefore, hiding from herself at the bottom of the world. Everything seems to have been manufactured in a mainframe--even the performances. It's Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, and, brother, that ain't good for something trying hard at edgy realism.
It's not either version of The Thing, nor is it even as good as either version of Insomnia, meaning that aside from looking really bad, it's free of any kind of weight of dread. Whiteout is boring as hell, John Frizell's non-descript ADHD score to the contrary. There's no sense of claustrophobia, no sense of isolation as our erstwhile heroes, stranded in the loneliest spot on the planet, are hunted by the world's most inept axe-murderer while trying to figure out what could possibly be so valuable in an old wreck of a Russian cargo plane, buried beneath twenty feet of ice, to inspire someone to perpetrate Antarctica's first-ever killing spree. Truly a curiosity, it's a movie with a budget that plays exactly like a movie without one. There's something cheap about it, not just aesthetically but in terms of its plotting and general execution as well. Much more has been done with much less. (Compare Whiteout to the absolute lonesome economy of Duncan Jones's Moon, for example.) Consider that cold is barely a factor in the film--despite many ominous warnings and protestations (and that title), when push comes to shove, it doesn't seem like anyone's terribly worried about the weather and, more, once exposed, it doesn't seem a terribly dire situation. Nothing a nice, leering hot shower can't cure. Not that I'm complaining, mind.
The set-pieces are flat and unimaginative, the characters are one-dimensional and drab, and when there's actually sped-up footage, Mack Sennett-style, during the climactic fight sequence, colour me not only unsurprised but also vaguely amused for the first time in the whole ordeal. Shame that Whiteout wasn't more aware of its inconsequence from the start, more invested in making a pulp fiction rather than this portentous, glowering, dimwitted procedural that in its desperation calls up ghosts of the Cold War amidst its cardboard cast and backdrops. I would have loved to see another noir in this setting (after feints of it with Smilla's Sense of Snow and the aforementioned Insomnias), one with the femme as the stained knight in a world of hommes fatale, seeking to redress wounds suffered in the war. (Something like David Fincher's badly underestimated Alien3, for instance, especially in its long form.) What we get instead is a picture utterly without surprises, totally devoid of tension, at total peace with itself as an entertainment for the terminally undemanding. It's quintessential bad cinema: neither bad enough to be good nor good enough to be good. If you'd forgotten that this title ever existed, well, so have I.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
Whiteout docks on Blu-ray from Warner in a 2.40:1, 1080p presentation that is unusually soft given its newness but not, I guess, given the absolute shittiness of the craftsmanship invested in its creation. Banding artifacts, of all things, appear in the film during the worst CGI inserts (planes, mainly), though compression is otherwise undetectable. The problem might be that too much was done to soften the image in either post-production or the transfer process, resulting in a weird Vaseline-smeared effect, particularly around light sources. You'd like to blame the technical shortcomings on the harshness of the shooting conditions, but with interior black levels weak and ill-defined, weather can't be the culprit. The attendant 5.1 Dolby TrueHD audio suggests that the idiots involved in the technical aspects of this flick thought they were working for Altman and have, therefore, crushed a lot of the dialogue into murmur. Sound dynamics are wildly uneven besides; were I interested in the slightest in researching the production, I might discover the reason for this, but suffice it to say I'd be surprised if this flick didn't come together like a patchwork quilt.
"Whiteout: The Coldest Thriller Ever" (12 mins., HD) talks about how cold it is in Manitoba, how shocked everyone was at how cold it was, and ultimately how cold it was there. It was cold. They go on to say that when you were outside, you needed to be careful lest you be killed by the cold. Also, it was beautiful. And Kate is a trooper. "Whiteout: From Page to Screen" (12 mins., HD) shows excerpts from the graphic novel on which the film was based, comparing them to the finished product. Instead of raving as they do, the original writers should be complaining that the film fucks up their work and essentially ruins any hope they have of scoring another Hollywood deal any time soon. Implied herein is that the book makes some hay of Stetko's sexual orientation, which was essentially left to lie fallow in the adaptation. The rest of it is engaged largely in pointless discussions about stuff like how people in isolated conditions need to blow off steam; I did my best to ignore them saying things along the lines of "our seminal images" so as to keep on feeling sorry for them. A few "Deleted Scenes" (4 mins., SD) are frankly indistinguishable from what reached the screen save an extended sequence with a disgruntled marijuana grower that paints Stetko as a humourless bitch. Those hoping for more gore or nudity (this guy right here) will be disappointed (like this guy right here). If you're Donald Bogle, there's also a little more time spent with the black sidekick. A Digital Copy of the film is available in the package, leading to the thought that it might be preferable to watch Whiteout on a tiny LED screen. The studio's Blu-ray reel orgasmically encourages you to buy a Blu-ray player upon loading of this Blu-ray product. Originally published: February 16, 2010.