As a tale of exploration and bravery, Against the Ice (Netflix) is worthy of 5.0 Gavels. The Danish Expedition of 1909 intends to learn what happened to a previous expedition of Northeast Greenland, and disprove American claims to the land. Yet, for all the hardships suffered and near death experiences, Against the Ice is strangely lacking in drama. In March 1910, Capt. Ejnar Mikkelson and mechanic Iver Iversen set off from their stranded ship, the Alabama, to find a cairn built by the earlier explorers. With little information, one explorer compared it to looking for a pile of rocks on a trip from Rome to Moscow. To the determined Mikkelson, those rocks were his Holy Grail, containing notes and maps left behind by his friend, Mylius-Erichsen, now certainly dead, frozen in the tundra.
On the map below, picture Peary Land on the very northern tip. Robert E. Peary thought he discovered an island separated from the mainland by the Peary Channel. The charts of Mylius-Erichsen showed Peary’s maps to be incorrect and the Peary Channel did not exist. Still, those charts are of no help if they do not make their way back to civilization. In this freezing and desolate terrain, somehow Mikkelson finds the cairn and the maps 580 miles from their ship. Filmed in Greenland and Iceland, the area is stark and bleak and magnificent. The CGI polar bear is HUGE and ferocious. The hallucinations, while perhaps accurate, distract from the extreme conditions. I give Against the Ice 3.0 Gavels and it receives a 53% Rotten Tomatoes rating with a 6.5/10 IMDb score.
After one of the crew loses toes to frostbite, none of the experienced crew are willing to volunteer to go on a wild goose chase with the Captain. He is too determined, too willing to risk life and limb. Starry-eyed and inexperienced Iversen steps forward to assist his idol. With two dog sleds, they begin, crossing the dangerous ice cap. If not back by August, the crew will leave them behind as otherwise the ice will again trap the Alabama. What no none knows is that the Alabama will be crushed by the ice and all stranded. This is a story about how they get home safely, but for two, not for nearly three years.
Normally an actor with some flair, Nikolaj Coster-Waldo (Game of Thrones), plays a subdued Mikkelsen. Maybe the stiff upper lip comes from the cold, or the concussion suffered from the fight with the bear. Seen in Gangs of London, Joe Cole is more expressive as Iversen. Charles Dance (The Crown) makes a limited appearance as the Minister of Denmark, but this is basically a two-man show.
One of the jarring aspects of Against the Ice is the “use” of the sled dogs. Each dog pull 100 pounds. Once that weight is gone, then you kill the weakest dog and feed him/her to the other dogs. You don’t see that in Disney movies. The first expedition reportedly took along a Crossley (Manchester, England) vehicle, not to be confused with a Crosley vehicle made in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“The suspenseful scenes don’t quite come together, the effects are not that convincing. Overall, it never feels as thrilling as it should.” BBC.com
“This is a potentially fascinating true story in which the pedestrian script and journeyman direction mislay the suspense — unless ropey CG polar bears give you a thrill” Hollywood Reporter.
Against the Ice portrays the hazards and isolation of Arctic Circle, but you certainly don’t get the feel of the long winter nights during those 865 days. Where is the desperation during the brutal winter weather?