Ice Station Zebra (1968)

47% – Critics
58% – Audience

Ice Station Zebra Storyline

US naval Commander Jim Ferrady’s next mission is to sail his nuclear submarine, the USS Tigerfish, to the multi-nation polar located weather station Zebra. He is told that the mission, which is concurrently being conducted by the Soviets as well, is under the pretense of saving its crew from something that has killed or is killing them. This situation is true, but the real mission is something else related to the ice station. A civilian Brit with a code name Jones, who will be sailing with him and who he doesn’t fully trust, knows the real reason of the mission, but refuses to disclose it, but promises to do so if it risks the lives of the sub’s crew. Another on board the sub is anti-Soviet Soviet Boris Vaslov, one of the designers of the station. As Vaslov is a friend of Jones, Ferraday also doesn’t fully trust him. Jones, in turn, doesn’t fully trust everyone on board, most specifically Captain Leslie Anders, who is leading the command of the marines for the mission. It soon becomes apparent that one of these mistrusts is founded as someone on board is sabotaging the mission, that person who is willing to die and kill everyone aboard the sub. The new concurrent mission is to find the saboteur, and discover for who he is working and their motives.

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Ice Station Zebra Movie Reviews

Thrilling and rousing film in which Rock Hudson is dispatched to a dangerous mission to rescue a spy artifact

Spectacular film about Cold War filmed mostly in study that won two Academy Award nominations : Cinematography and special visual effects. Captain James Ferraday (this was Rock Hudson’s favourite film of his own, and also of Howard Hughes ; Charlton Heston was originally offered the role but turned it down, saying there was no characterization in the script) , Commander of the nuclear submarine called USS Tigershark, is assigned to the polar ice region on a rescue mission when an emergency signal is heard from a research station, Ice Station Zebra (in real life, there was no “Ice Station Zebra”, but there was an “Ice Station Alpha” which was situated in a Arctic’s Ice Island). On board there is a civilian and possibly a spy named David Jones (Laurence Harvey was originally cast in Patrick McGoohan’s role) , whose orders are dark . Ferraday doesn’t like being kept in the secret but Jones is strongly secretive and doesn’t give much away . Along the way, they collect two additional passengers, a Russian veteran named Boris Vaslov (the recently deceased Ernest Borgnine) , likely also a spy, and an African-American Marine Captain (Jim Brown) . Based on the novel (1963) by Alistair MacLean, Scottish author of Best-seller novels such as “The Guns of Navarone” . It’s one of two Alistair MacLean filmed adaptations released in 1968, the other was ¨Where Eagles Dare¨. Changes made from the Alistair MacLean source novel of the same name for this film included the name of the nuclear submarine, the Dolphin, which was re-named the USS Tigerfish and the names of two characters: Submarine Commander Swanson became Commander Ferraday and spy Dr. Carpenter became David Jones .

It is one of the most thrilling and exciting films set on the years of the Cold War. Great superproduction with all-star-cast , impressive scenes , shimmer photography and a vibrant sound , the time has increased its documentary value. The acting of the interesting characters is believable and convincing, especially by Patrick McGoohan and the Russian Colonel well played by Alf Kjellin . Special appearance by Lloyd Nolan and film debut for Ron Masak .The film’s story has similarities with the real life events, reported in the media in April 1959, of the Discoverer II experimental Corona satellite capsule that went missing and was recovered by Soviet intelligence agents after it crashed near Spitsbergen in the Arctic Ocean ; Spitsbergen is in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago of islands which is where both Alistair MacLean ‘s novel and the film of Bear Island is set. The screenplay has eloquent dialogue, continuous tension and surprising twists that keep the viewer’s attention .The soundtrack by singer and French composer Michel Legrand -“The Umbrellas of Cherbourg”- , is full of vibrant sound , brings a solemn score, cutting edge, played by an orchestra of wind . Colorful cinematography in glimmer color by Daniel Fapp. Unique and innovative underwater camera equipment was developed for this movie by 2nd unit cameraman and cinematographer ‘John M Stephens’, a former U.S.A. Navy diver, who is billed in the credits for additional arctic photography , the camera system enabled the first ever filming of a continuous submarine dive and this technical innovation produced some outstanding photography for the picture.

The visual effects, despite its quality, not ‘see that snow is artificial, that the landscape of the polar station is mounted on set ; his picture is the first of two movies based on an Alistair MacLean novel set in rugged icy and snowy terrain , the second would be Bear Island about eleven years later. John Sturges’ filmmaking is absorbent and entertaining , a good job , It’s one of two filmed Alistair MacLean adaptations directed by Sturges , the other was ¨The Satan Bug¨ made and released about three years earlier . The production shoot for ¨Ice Station Zebra¨ went for nineteen weeks, from Spring 1967 until October 1967. Rating : Very good , wholesome seeing .

Further proof that Howard Hughes was nuts!

According to all reports, in his later years Howard Hughes was a very, very crazy man. Many of his “excentricities” were quite disgusting and I won’t mention them here, but one directly relates to this review. That’s because Hughes was known for watching a small number of movies again and again and again–some hundreds of times! Of these, ICE STATION ZEBRA was his apparent favorite. He loved it so much that he had the film repeatedly shown on TV stations he owned. And yet, when I just finished watching it, I thought that if I had to see it two or three times I might scream–it was that long and dull. Now I am not saying it was a bad movie–just a film that could have used a bit of editing to tighten it up a bit. But to see the film hundreds of time? Yecch!

The film begins with a satellite falling to the Earth and landing near the North Pole. Soon afterwords, you see an attachment of marines being loaded aboard a nuclear submarine commanded by Rock Hudson. No one aboard knows what the mission is until Patrick McGoohan and Ernest Borgnine later meet up with the ship and they refuse to tell what the hubbub is about, so naturally Hudson is a bit miffed. Suffice to say that the Ruskies ALSO want to get the satellite and the film is a reasonably interesting espionage film set during the height of the Cold War.

Unfortunately, despite decent acting and a good script idea, there are two major problems with the film that consign it to mediocrity. First, while I like long films, this one is just too long thanks to many scenes where they show the sub slowly going through the water. This was actually highly reminiscent of STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE, because it, too, was hampered by too many scenes the ship as it flew through space. The film really needed a good editing because too much of the film was spent watching the ship move SLOWLY to the pole. Second, the film ended in a manner that wasn’t super-satisfying. My overwhelming feeling at the end was “is THAT it?!”.

Still it’s worth a look–particularly because FINALLY Ernest Borgnine approximates a decent Russian accent. In an earlier film, MAN ON A STRING (1960), Borgnine played the first Russian in history with NO trace of a Russian accent!!! It’s nice to hear that he finally got some voice coaching. Way to go Ernie!!

Even with such a promising cast, Ice Station Zebra could have been so much more

I saw Ice Station Zebra as I do like all three main actors, and this did seem like an interesting film. Sadly, while Ice Station Zebra is not a complete waste, it just didn’t deliver in my opinion.

I will start with the positives, the settings are spectacular with the photography capturing it very nicely, and the music gives the meaning to the words intense and dynamite. There are also two good performances, Rock Hudson is very likable and charismatic, and Patrick McGoohan is an always welcome presence in a very tight yet quite subtle performance.

However, I wish I could say the same for Ernest Borgnine, I am very fond of Borgnine but I found he overacted here with an accent that sounded more silly than believable. The support cast just don’t have enough enough time to shine. I think the main problem with Ice Station Zebra is the story, not the concept itself, I could tell right off the bat that a powerful telling of it was intended.

Instead it was devoid of tension and suspense, and dare I say it, I just didn’t find it exciting either, plus there was a comic element to it that was unintentional and quite irritating when you think of what Ice Station Zebra could’ve been. Another thing about the story was that it started off so well, but not only is there like 20 minutes of the film that are not needed perhaps but the last hour or so was rather meandering in my opinion. The film is also very long, which is not always a bad thing. Here though, what spoilt it was that the film does feel as though you are riding on the back of a snail and with no tension or excitement the whole effort seemed rather leaden.

There are moments when the dialogue is sharp, with McGoohan faring the best of the lot, however there is some rather pointless and frothy exposition and sorry, I just couldn’t take Borgnine’s dialogue seriously. Also with a film of this length, you’d expect detail to characterisation, don’t you think? How McGoohan’s character was written showed there was potential for that, and Hudson actually rises above a character that I think for his calibre was rather bland. The Russians however come across as stereotypical.

The direction has moments where it is assured, and it also has many parts where it is stodgy, that’s disappointing considering it was John Sturges director of classics such as The Magnificent Seven, The Great Escape and Bad Day at Black Rock. Lastly, the effects of the Russian jets could I agree could’ve been much better, they seem dated and on the cheap side now, at least to me.

All in all, could’ve been so much more, especially seeing how good and promising the cast are. 4/10 Bethany Cox