„Persónurnar eru óskýrar og togstreitan milli þeirra svo veik að við verðum ekki snortin af hlutskipti þeirra,“ skrifar Jessica Kiang meðal annars í Variety um Against the Ice eftir Peter Flinth. Myndin er nú á Berlínarhátíðinni og væntanleg á Netflix.
Take one glance at the spectacular landscapes of Greenland and you understand why in Inuit the word for snow has so many variations and derivations. The aerial establishing shot that opens Peter Flinth’s “Against the Ice” alone challenges the descriptive powers of the English language; inhabiting such an environment continually, you would have to find new exotic coinages to communicate the sheer variety of textures that freezing water can exhibit. Such creative imagination, however is sorely lacking from Flinth’s handsome but plodding adventure movie. To reduce a titanic struggle for survival in one of the most inhospitable climes on earth to such by-the-numbers drama is in many ways akin to standing on a jagged frozen peak, gazing across blizzard-assailed permafrost plains to crumbling white cliffs and ice shelfs beyond and thinking “Snow.”
This Netflix movie — and it feels oddly precision-tooled as a “Netflix movie” — is adapted by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Joe Derrick from the book “Two Against the Ice” by Danish explorer Ejnar Mikkelsen, which detailed Mikkelsen’s 1909-12 expedition to Greenland. Starring Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Joe Cole and the snow in Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s beard, the film faithfully recounts the many perils that Mikkelsen (Coster-Waldau) and sidekick Iver Iverson (Cole) faced in their attempt to retrieve the findings of an ill-fated previous expedition. Yet somehow, aside from a nicely mounted polar bear attack and a well-turned sled-vs.-cliff encounter, it never feels particularly perilous.
There was a lot at stake. The U.S. had laid claim to a strip of land they believed to be separated from Danish territory by what they dubbed the Peary Channel. And so, anxious to assert Danish sovereignty, the authorities in Copenhagen, here represented by Charles Dance’s scowling minister Neegard, funded a mission led by Ludvig Mylius-Erichsen to chart the area, from which the men never came back. As “Against the Ice” opens, Mikkelsen is returning by sled to his ship, the Alabama, having found one of their bodies, and, more importantly, a map showing where Mylius-Erichsen, realizing his chances of survival were remote, stashed the vital evidence the group had gathered.
Unfortunately, Mikkelsen’s companion Jorgensen (Gísli Örn Garðarsson) has lost several toes to frostbite in the process and cannot accompany the captain on his next foray. Asked to volunteer in his stead, the men grumble about the near-suicidal odds of success and look away. All except perky, chatty, snub-nosed ships mechanic Iversen, who despite — or probably because of — his lack of experience of Arctic exploration, thinks it all sounds like a jolly adventure. With no other choice, Mikkelsen sets to getting Iversen trained in sledding, which mainly involves reiterating to him not to get too attached to the sled dogs. Viewers would be advised to do the same: The huskies are in a literal dog-eat-dog situation.
Mikkelsen and Iversen set off in March, vowing to return by August. And after many hardships, they do find the cairn Mylius-Erichsen erected, and the evidence it contains that there is, in fact, no Peary Channel. The area the U.S. has annexed is actually attached to the rest of Greenland and therefore part of the Kingdom of Denmark. But this is where the trouble really begins for the intrepid pair, as when, much depleted, they make it back to the Alabama, they find her damaged and deserted, with a small nearby cabin built from her timbers containing enough provisions to last them a year. So their journey, like the film, comes to a grinding halt while they wait roughly an eon for rescue, during which time very little happens, except one stroke of very bad luck, which “Arrested Development” fans may be briefly amused to hear turns on Mikkelsen’s failure to leave a note.
Flinth describes the action well enough, in DP Torben Forsberg’s stately widescreen images, scored to Volker Bertelmann’s generic but unobjectionable music. But the characters are so thinly drawn, and the expected dynamic between the idealistic rookie and the grizzled veteran is so underpowered that we’re never moved by their plight. Mikkelsen wears a locket with a picture of the girl he left behind, whom he starts to hallucinate as cabin fever sets in. But that’s about it for an interior life, and even his hallucinations are chaste and not terribly interesting. Iversen, poor thing, only has his indomitable good humor and a photograph of some unknown women standing in a garden. Beyond that, all they can do is hole up and wait out the winters that must have felt, to them, almost as interminable as the 102 minutes of “Against the Ice.”