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Ice Station Zebra released on DVD

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Postby Robert » Wed May 25, 2005 8:04 pm

FYI, in January of 2005 the 1960's Cold War drama Ice Station Zebra, starring Rock Hudson as a sub driver and Patrick McGoohan & Ernest Borgenine in supporting roles was finally released on DVD.

I bought a copy immediately because I REALLY like the first 2/3 of this movie and always wanted a copy. The transfer is well done and clean. The first 2/3 of the movie is spent preparing for and embarking on a rescue mission to the top of the world via a nuclear attack sub. The remaing 1/3 is handicapped by funky sets and model shots but it's still entertaining.

Just an FYI if you, like me, were wanting this for years.
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Postby Dolphin » Wed May 25, 2005 11:30 pm

Got my store copy in March 2005. Was from the Turner film collection. Turner last fall held a Internet pole of 20 films of which ten or so would be released new on DVD. I voted for Ice Station Zebra (1968) too. Guess we were in the lucky half. Before this, the only way to view this film in the super Panavision was on laser disk which is now very rare. The super wide screen version is a completely different film visually and looks magnificent.

To me and others..(Merriman) we all agree this has the most realistic looking American nuclear submarine interiors....mainly the control room. The crowded space, the hum of the inertial gyros, the alert/relaxed tone of the crew in the control room. Even a very reasonable Hollywood interpretation of the helm 'CONALOG' display. The sail prop set even displays a BRA-7 ECM mast.....quite risque for 1968. I don't know how this got past the sensor In contrast...the bridge sets in 'Hunt for Red October' looks obviously done by someone who never spent more then 5 minutes on a SSN. A lot of bright pretty lights and a mirrored periscope for Connery to look threw. Mirrors on the scopes? Kinky! The scene in Ice Station Zebra were Ernest Borgnine looks threw the very small very thick lead port hole in the reactor spaces for viewing is roughly accurate too. I can show you the plans. I doubt the red glow on his face.... but is visually effective dramatically. Blue would have been better. Rickover would have never ever allowed a 'passenger' (or the correct term 'rider') in those holy spaces, but it does contribute to the audience fascination with these nuclear submarines which Alistair MacLean conveyed in the novel from which it was based.

The magnificent diving sequences with USS Ronquil (SS-396) off Hawaii was beautifully photographed by second unit photographer John Stephens who gained notoriety for his ingenious photography of the race car scenes in his previous film work, the then just completed 'Grand Prix' (1966). Nascar races do the same thing today on video, but John Stephens created & did it 30 years before in 'Grand Prix'. Stephens was also fortunately a former US Navy diver and photographer so his love of submarines and it's interaction with the sea shows threw clearly in his work in 'Ice Station Zebra'.

Recently purchased the DVD film 'Battle of the River Plate' (1955) (was released in the United States in 1955 titled....'Pursuit of the Graf Spee'). No submarines, but Navy related, go to Amazon UK and purchase....... the four cruisers including the actual HMS Achillies in this film posing as herself when she was then the Indian cruiser 'Delhi'. In wide screen and in technicolor........imagine the real DE in 'the Enemy Below' but increased by a factor of four real cruisers. All optics...pre radar. Clear print, beautful color, teak decks, tropical sunny weather (sunrises), Royal Navy uniforms (summer whites), great acting...sighs....Sure Sea Lord Louis Mountbatten (also a big Hollywood movie fan) had a hand making the arrangements for this Magnificent (quite the Nelson touch) film!!!! Break out the lime juice & ice, put your feet up, click the DVD remote & enjoy.

Steve Reichmuth

Edited By Dolphin on 1117304809

Postby U812 » Thu May 26, 2005 1:46 am

Very good Steve. You know your stuff. And as a Hollywood visual effects person may I add that at the time this was very high end. As good as it gets.

Still holds up well IMHO. The only thing that doesn't is the Migs in flight. Not to mention the stock footage of the F-4's we are supposed to believe are the same planes. But movies did that a lot then. A T-6 never looked like a Zero to me either.

Also in 68 it was up for best special visual effects but lost hands down to the greatest space movie of all time. 2001. Wasn't even fair really.

I still remember the make-up effects award went to John Chambers for Planet of the Apes. I apprenticed under him in the late 70's. Although his work was great it could hardly compare to the apes and old age make up in 2001 Stuart Freeborn did.

I remember Arthur C. Clark's remarks about this still. The Academy evidently had no idea the apes weren't real. That doesn't surprise me really. It 's still the same way today. To me awards are a joke. BS.

I love this movie. Did you also no that Patrick was playing the character from Secret Agent? John Drake. That's why Borgnine calls him Johnny.


Edited By U812 on 1117086487

Postby Dolphin » Thu May 26, 2005 3:55 am

Hi Steve,

Yes, I knew consciously (or perhaps unconsciously) that Patrick McGoohan's character was from the secret agent series. Borgnine does let 'Johnny' slip out. Patrick always somehow could make his character's paranoia a positive survival trait. Thinking of 'The Prisoner' too.

Yes, I forgot about the Mig21's, and the swap to the F-4 Phantoms stock footage too. Like the AT-6's in 'Tora', always very painful isn't it. LOL. The MiG shots were more closer in quality and vintage effect to Major Kong's B-52 in Dr. Strangelove.

Effects wise, the most enjoyable part of Ice Station Zebra is the model effects shots of the submarine miniature 'under the ice'. Very impressive even by todays standards. A unique setting, and the music accompanying suitably both eerie and compelling. A strange new world - both alien & familiar, compelling and dangerous. The effects model of the 'Tigerfish' is very accurate representing a Skate SSN, except for the stern tip area between the props....much too much hull taper there. At least they included the stern tubes.

Jim Christley once related personally he knew the sailor who was on the bridge of the USS Ronquil (SS-396) for the surface shots of Ice Station Zebra off Hawaii. The amusing story Jim shared with me was this enlisted man was selected by John Stephens because he was the tallest member of the Ronquil crew and would be more conspicuous in the film footage shot. Apparently the captain of Ronquil was up staged because he was 'a shorty', missing out being paid as an 'extra' too.

I most certainly agree 2001's apes were far better realistically, but I think Planet of the Apes won because of the sheer logistics of the huge makeup operation prosthetic wise. Guess 2001's apes were too realistic. God I miss Rod Serling's writing! Like they say....the best visual effects are naturally those you don't even notice. You being in the business, sure you know this. 1968 was a banner year for film. Not anywhere near 1939, but impressive still.

I imagine Howard Hughes ('ISZ' was his all time favorite movie) was then secretly working on the Glomar Explorer project at the time. 'ISZ' has in some ways a lot in common with what Howard was working on at that time. Satellites, submarines, recovering precious 'intelligence', spies, the Russians. Fascinating now in hindsight.

I always wanted to see a film made about Adm. Rickover. It would be a controversial film naturally. His ruthless drive for safety and perfection. His methods questionable, but the excellent safety record with nuclear energy. Who would I like to play Rickover? Sam Waterston if he can get any slimmer and frail (in stature only) like the Admiral was.

Steve Reichmuth

Edited By Dolphin on 1117162038

Postby TMSmalley » Thu May 26, 2005 6:49 am

The USS Des Moines - WWII vintage US heavy cruiser CA-134 - "Played" the Graf Spee.

The Daisy Mae is on museum hold in Philly right now. I hope she gets adopted by some historic organization before "Gillette" gets her. She is a magnificent ship.
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Postby Robert » Thu May 26, 2005 10:15 am

Wow, I didn't realize that they had Navy support for making Ice Station Zebra, but it makes sense.

Magoohan and Borgnine were great, and ex-football star Jim Brown was very good as the Marine major.

The most amazing scene in the movie to me was the flooding scene. It still gives me chills. The only thing that outdoes it is the flooding scene in the opening of The Abyss, and that's mainly because they had a better set, not better writing or acting.

"Thank God."

"Yes son, and I'll thank the Electric Boat Division that way we're covered either way."


"It looks...almost benign."

There are just so many good lines in that movie.
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Postby Dolphin » Thu May 26, 2005 9:55 pm

Correction....'It looks almost .....benevolent'.

It was the USS Salem. When I was a teenager I toured the USS Newport News, Des Moines & Salem's sister. Something about teak decks....the USS Missouri I have toured too...same awesome impression.

Ships used in the film 'Battle of the River Plate....HMS Sheffield as HMS Ajax (Ajax or not...Sheffield looks spectacular in this film....sighs!), INS Delhi (formerly HMNZS Achilles) plays herself as HMNZS Achilles, the Kiwi criuser. HMS Jamaica plays the part of HMS Exeter. HMS Cumberland as herself....HMS Cumberland, Heavy Cruiser USS Salem as the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee. A British tanker in a well photographed busy refueling scene in camo plays 'Altmark'. There is even a plug for the Janes Naval annual in these scenes. Another lovely piece of trivia are these warships are listed in the film credits as prominately as the 'human' actors are too. What a splendid time capsule in 'VistaVision' and 'Technicolor' of these wonderful ships.

Steve Reichmuth

Edited By Dolphin on 1117304327

Postby Casey Thrower » Sat May 28, 2005 11:55 am

This is one of my favorite movies. I may try and find one for the raffle. The boat used for the model looks like a SKATE class if I'm not mistaken. The extra documentary in the DVD tells how the movie was made and says the boat used in the surface shots was "atomic" which was wrong, but overall a good bit information bit on how the movie was made was there. The sail and bow of the model vs. the Ronquil was obviously different and the tiny sail the troops came out of at the Pole was funny. I understand from some guys that served that the control room and interior shots were pretty dead on except for the reactor room which was unlike the real thing.
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