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For, Friday, April 24, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Kino Lorber has given a Blu-ray upgrade to this sci-fi (sort of) melodrama that holds up very well and is not what you expect. It’s much better than that. My review was published in the Deseret News on April 15, 1984.

“Iceman” is an extremely difficult film to describe, a brief explanation making it sound like just another variation on “Frankenstein,” “The Thing,” “Quest For Fire” or a Tarzan film. And in truth, there are scenes here that bring those varied films to mind at one time or another.

But “Iceman” is much more than merely a patchwork rip-off. It is a thought-provoking, artistically made and highly entertaining work, directed by Australian filmmaker Fred Schepisi, best known here for his offbeat little Willie Nelson western, “Barbarosa.”

Timothy Hutton and Lindsay Crouse play scientists with vastly different perspectives and approaches to their work. Hutton is an anthropologist whose passion is to learn and experience as much as possible about other people in other places and times. Crouse is more cold-blooded and methodical, researching cryogenics and hoping to get some clue as to how to freeze human beings for indefinite periods.


John Lone, left, Lindsay Crouse, Timothy Hutton, 'Iceman' (1984)

The film opens with the discovery of something buried deep inside an Arctic glacier, although no one is quite sure what they have found until they begin cutting it down. Then they see it — a man, frozen in the ice, and he’s been there for some 40,000 years.

As the “specimen” is thawed it gradually becomes apparent that he is alive, a perfectly preserved Neanderthal man. Crouse wants to poke and prod further but Hutton wants to try to get to know him. And eventually he does; the caveman meets the modern man, though in less than ideal conditions.

The revelations here are simple; there are no earth-shattering new ideas presented. But the thoughtful approach gives the entire subject a dignity and intelligence that makes even a few predictable plot developments seem fresh.

Timothy Hutton is excellent as the earthy anthropologist — so earthy that his colleagues continually tease him about it. And Lindsay Crouse (who played Hutton’s mother in “Daniel”) matches him as the cool cryogenics expert.


But it is John Lone as the ancient man who makes the film work. The entire film is actually in his hands and could have easily disintegrated into silliness if a lesser actor had mishandled the part. With only grunts, gestures and body language he manages to convey every emotion, and in the end our hearts are with him.

Director Schepisi is to be commended for his success with a film that might have taken any number of approaches. It is everything John Carpenter’s “The Thing” failed to be, it is also an extension of the first half of “Greystoke,” and it is perhaps a more accessible approach to what “Quest For Fire” tried to do.

In the end, though, “Iceman” is very much an original — fascinating ideas told in a fascinating way, which makes it one of the better films so far this year.

“Iceman” is rated PG for some violence, profanity and some discreet nudity.