RETROSPECTIVE: ICE STATION ZEBRA (1968)

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Gerard Martin

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Feb 20, 1996, 3:00:00 AM2/20/96
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ICE STATION ZEBRA (1968)
- Info-Station On Ice -
A film review by Gerard Martin
Copyright 1996 Gerard Martin

Directed by : John Sturges
Cinematography by : Daniel L. Fapp
Produced by : Martin Ransohoff
Written by : J. W. R. Burnett, Harry Julian Fink, Douglas Heyes
Based on the book by : Alistair MacLean
Edited by : Robert Dalva
Music by : Michel Legrand
Starring : Rock Hudson, Patrick McGoohan, Ernest Borgnine, Jim Brown,
Tony Bill
--------------

By placing a high premium on the value of information, ICE STATION
ZEBRA remains a movie that nearly holds its own almost thirty years
later. Indeed I would speculate that simply to have revealed this basic
"information" tenet of the story would surely have been viewed as a
serious "spoiler" in 1968 when the movie was released and 1963 when
Alistair MacLean's book by the same name was published. You see, ICE
STATION ZEBRA is really about the retrieval of "information about";
this along with a never-ending routine of attention paid to the always
frequent exchange of logistical "information for" in the movement of
people and things across the earth's geography.

Director John Sturges' production of ICE STATION ZEBRA opens with
critically acclaimed special effects shots of a satellite in orbit far
above the earth; this immediately followed by scenes of the
instrument-lit technical subculture world of satellite geo-orbital
tracking. Then, almost as soon as the space-age starts, the scenes of
vast antenna arrays are replaced when high-tech meets low-tech in the
scene-change to a more down-to-earth yet oddly formal underworld of a
bar, a telephone, and a proverbial private chamber where only secrets
about secrets are ever revealed. Here is where the constant need for
much more information quickens the pace. Questions abound and answers
are few and far between. Even the questions quickly lead to more
questions! Who are the good guys, the bad guys ... and what do they
know about this story?

Beyond the search for Ice Station Zebra - and much sooner rather
than much later, there is cause for wonder of the more eclectic kind.
Why are there no women in this film? When did actor Rock Hudson, who
plays submarine captain James Ferraday, decide that he preferred the
company of men? Was not the character "David Jones," played by Patrick
McGoohan, the opportune warm-up exercise for the acting role of No. 6
in THE PRISONER which aired on television the same year? "There's
somebody who doesn't want us to get to Ice Station Zebra" speaks
Jones mid-way through the film when a deadly sabotage effort threatens
the mission of this state-of-the-art nuclear-powered submarine. Can
chewing gum really be that deadly? Not, implies Jones, unless one knows
what one is doing.

In the end, perhaps "doing" is what the story is all about. The
enigma that is the Arctic "Ice Station Zebra" is a place, a moment in
time, and an action packed final=E9 to elaborate opportunities to show
a nuclear submarine as intricate, powerful, vulnerable, monumental and
awe inspiring no matter how one chooses to use this "chess-piece" in
the ancient cold-war game of sizing-up the enemy.


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