Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Sprague Theobald's THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ICE gives us family and adventure

An embarrassing documentary by a fellow whose bona fides would not appear to include filmmaking, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ICE tracks a trek by the film-maker, together with members of his family and a few outsider crewmen, across the infamous Northwest Passage that has, over time, taken a lot of explorers' and seamen's lives. What supposedly makes this film special is its combination of family tale and life-threatening adventure. If only.

Sprague Theobald, shown at right, seems like an intelligent enough man who certainly possess seafaring skills. And his decision to light out from Newport, Rhode Island, toward more northern climes could have resulted in an interesting film. The reason that it does not is due to Theobald's almost complete inability to understand what an audience needs and wants to know. This guy consistently feeds us too little of one thing and too much of the other. And then vice-versa. If we're going to probe family problems, lets do it, for Christ sake. But instead we get a moment here (his stepson was angry at him for walking out), a moment there (his step- daughter is having problems with her boyfriend, who's also a crew member) and then a little seawater and ice. Some cocktail.

These people all talk a blue streak, including Theobald, who, from the first, keeps insisting on how dangerous and frightening the whole trip is/was. And then we get visuals, often accompanied by somewhat dramatic music, that certainly don't show us much about why all this should be so.

From the first, the family and crew set to arguing, tiresomely. After a few minutes we're ready to bail. Then they calm down a bit, but once they find themselves stuck in the ice, they start up all over again, and in the process, bore us silly.

Along the way, we do get an occasional look at some interesting scenery, beautifully photographed, and we also realize that we're indeed going where few others have been. That ought to provide something, but as a filmmaker, Theobald has no idea how to create any real drama. Talking about how frightening something is simply does not make it so.

Off and on, we get some clich├ęs, too: "Mother Nature rules." Yup. We can't disagree with that. When the filmmaker/narrator tells us that the trip has brought the family together so that they have formed a bond, we're glad, but we certainly haven't witnessed it, except in the most rudimentary manner. Once the passage through the Passage has been accomplished, a scene of celebration with a cake is, again, thoroughly undramatic.

This trip may have been useful and good therapy for family members, but it has done bupkis for us. At one point, we are told that the ocean seemed to be saying, "Don't ever come back. You have pressed your luck." Who'd have imagined the ocean would make such a fine film critic?

The Other Side of the Ice, thankfully running just 77 minutes, opens this Friday, March 8, at the Quad Cinema and will appear, one would imagine, eventually on DVD, VOD and/or streaming.

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