Half the fun of playing in the snow is coming inside to warm up. Hot chocolate, a warm blanket, and fuzzy slippers make you glad you got cold in the first place. Here are some cold movies that will make you want to cozy up on the couch and be glad you’re safe and warm after trudging home from the video store.
A planeload of rugby players crashes in the snowbound Andes. Some survive, thanking their lucky stars that the tragedy is over and that they are still alive. As the days pass without any sign of rescue, a slow realization sets in that the tragedy is not over, and their lives must change if they are to survive any longer. The freezing wind and blowing snow are not the only obstacles to survival; hunger, wounds, and lack of equipment forces the survivors to form a new, mutually-dependent society. The film was shot in sequence so that beard growth and exposure would look more natural. If you have a home theater, this is a great film to watch loud.
This Japanese movie opens with a title reading “This is a true story.” It is the story, mostly, of a team of Japanese sled dogs on an Antarctic expedition in 1957. One expedition crew is going home, to be replaced by another crew. The first crew makes it out, but stormy conditions, damaged equipment, and the onset of the Antarctic winter keep the second crew from getting in. The sled dogs, left at the base for the second crew, are now alone and chained in the snow and wind. One by one they break their bonds, and the movie follows each one in its struggle to survive the Antarctic winter. Antarctica is mostly a dramatic re-creation, but occasionally a narrator or subtitle tells us what happened to the real dogs. This makes the movie a bit choppy, but the dogs’ stories make it fascinating.
John Carpenter’s The Thing
This chilling horror-tragedy is set in Antarctica in early winter. A Norwegian helicopter drifts into an American base, desperately hunting a runaway sled dog. The Norwegians die in a last-ditch attempt to kill the dog. The Americans take the dog in, and before they can fully investigate the incident, they realize they have been infiltrated by a horrible monster/parasite. The foreshadowing and dramatic irony throughout is worthy of Greek tragedy. As the movie progresses, so does the winter. With fewer and fewer hours of daylight, the survivors spend more and more of their precious resources trying to wipe out the invader.
From the ancient Greeks’ Odysseus to America’s Luke Skywalker, the story of the hero’s journey is timeless. Pathfinder is a Laplander hero’s tale that’s been told, the movie says, for a thousand years. The adventure starts when a boy skis home from a hunting trip to find his family murdered and their killers, the Tchudes, looting their camp. The Tchudes spot the young Aigin, and he flees to the nearest settlement. Warned, the people quickly move on to the coast, but a few, Aigin included, stay to make a stand. Eventually, only Aigin can keep the Tchudes from destroying his people. Pathfinder is the first movie ever filmed in the Lapp language. It is very well made, and it conveys a real sense of what it’s like to live off the land near the Arctic Circle.
A Midnight Clear
It is the winter of 1944, and the war in Europe is swinging in the Allies’ favor. A squad of bright young American soldiers is sent on a mission in the Ardennes forest. They are to make their way to an abandoned house, observe the German troops, and report back. Though they all tested high on intelligence tests, they learn that they are undertrained for their mission one night when German soldiers catch them unprepared, fix them in their sites — and don’t fire. Other nights, the Germans shout goodnight greetings to the Americans, or serenade them with “O Tannenbaum.” Finally, the Germans attack, but with snowballs instead of bullets. Are they taunting the Americans or is there another explanation? A Midnight Clear is a wonderful movie. It is reverent, calm, and humble — an odd but refreshing mix for a war movie.
Having been to Iceland and seen its beautiful lunar landscape, it’s hard for me not to like Cold Fever. Atsushi, a Japanese businessman is pressured into spending his winter vacation in Iceland, so he can perform a cleansing ritual over the spot where his parents died. He arrives in Iceland, procures a car (he gets a deal because its wheels are encased in ice), and sets off on a strange road trip. That wisp of a plot is all it takes to fulfill the movie’s real purpose, which is to show us, from an outsider’s point of view, the rugged beauty of the land and the unfamiliar charm of its people. This is the only Icelandic movie widely available in the U.S., but the Icelandic director’s third film, Devil’s Island, will soon be in theaters.
The Gold Rush
This Chaplin classic is set in “The North,” the Yukon, where lone prospectors set off in search of gold. The first act has the Lone Prospector (Chaplin) looking for shelter from the blizzard in the cabin of an outlaw. In a characteristically funny scene, the outlaw demands that Chaplin leave the cabin. Chaplin tries to oblige, but his strides make no headway against the snow and wind. The second act sees the Lone Prospector fall for a lovely young woman in a mining town. He earns money to woo her by shoveling snow from one storefront to the next. This movie has some of Chaplin’s best-known scenes, including Chap eating his own shoe, the “Oceana Roll” dance, and the teetering cabin, to name a few.
Thanks to the crew at the Video Station for their input to this story.