Iceman, 1984

Discussion in 'Film & TV' started by Diziet Sma, Nov 20, 2016.

  1. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    After watching Iceman...

    Poor Charlie! Waking up after 40.000 years to this mess. What a bunch of disorganised scientists…
    I have liked the main idea of the film but I think it took a very simplistic, naive approach to the whole concept of how to handle a 40.000 year old Neanderthal.
    An opportunity like this would have surely enjoyed the resources to set him up in a better environment, where Charlie could have stood a better chance to settle himself into some kind of normality in order to study him better and learn form him. I found myself telling Shepherd what to do and how to do it…
    The end was gentle, humane, very unscientific and predictable in a way.
    Iceman has triggered my memory and I remember having watched the film Quest for Fire ( which I enjoyed. Admittedly, this was a few years back and maybe I wouldn’t agree with myself if I watched it again.
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2016
  2. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    I've not looked at your review @Elvira (apart from the first line to the point i realised it was a review) because I didn't get chance to watch it this weekend ... will hopefully get around to it quite soon!
  3. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Oops! sorry. I should have titled my post to warn you it was my opinion about the film...
  4. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Saw the film and liked it.

    I thought the whole introduction was well handled; everything from the cutting of the ice, the set-up of the industrial albeit minimal lab with its attendant equipment, the thawing of the body, the electrolyte/blood transfusion, the monitoring of all the relevant values, etc. It gave off a very realistic and professional vibe, a lot more than many more modern films with their über high-tech labs. I think I liked it more precisely because it was not such a sterile and pristine environment. It was field work.

    Besides the initial science fictional element of revivification and that vital compound that the Neanderthal can potentially produce in his body which they want, the film is really about showing how a primitive man might react to the strangeness of the brave new world he wakes up in. And I thought that was a good move on the writer's part. Keeping it mostly about the science would probably have made less of an impact in the end. A film like The Andromeda Strain can afford to be only about the science since it is essentially a thriller from beginning to end, so the plot moves fast and interest for the mystery doesn't wane. But Iceman is a lot slower; it had to centre itself around the brief relationship between anthropologist and Neanderthal.
    I agree, but you have to remember that these company scientists were there for a totally different purpose, and while they fortunately had doctors whose expertise and experience overlapped enough to do what they did, they didn't have the proper resources for serious, long-term study. They admitted as much to themselves, plus they knew they got greedy with the discovery. Imagine, potential Nobel prizes if they could secure enough of the initial groundwork. And their names enshrined in history not just for the monumental discovery, but potentially even for the medical advances that would surely come if they'd been able to find and isolate the molecular compounds that 'Charlie' had produced in his body that allowed his cell walls not to break down during the freeze. And there was the added requirement for secrecy; the media getting wind of it would complicate the whole matter and limit their options, especially given it was a full revivification of a breathing, walking, thinking human.

    I also liked the overlap between Inuit myths and Charlie's own belief system. Just goes to show you never know exactly how old some of those ancient memories that are codified into mythical stories really are. Imagine, a 40,000 year old myth that was incorporated by Homo sapiens from his cousin the Neanderthal, and I believe that some Neanderthal DNA is extant in Homo sapiens. It's just a staggering thought, that overlap of belief systems and myths. Makes you wonder just how intimate the relationship between us and our cousins might have been (perhaps in isolated pockets rather than more generally?) even whilst we were completely displacing them over a period of about 20,000 years. Are the shamanistic rituals found in many parts of the world (let's say north America for the film) a uniquely Homo sapiens 'technology' or something co-shared/co-developed or something passed down from our older, extinct cousins?

    And what's strange is that when Shepard comes to Charlie at the end with the Eskimo attire, there's a close-up of Charlie's reddened, sleep-deprived, watery eyes, and they had a very slightly Asian or Inuit look. That was an excellent, subtle detail. It made the potential connection between Inuit and Neanderthal mythology (at least the specific group or tribe of Neanderthal that Charlie originated from) even more believable.

    When it comes to acting, most of the cast is superfluous and the spotlight was clearly on the guy who played Charlie. I thought he did an incredible job. From his vocal range, the vocal patterns in his speech, how his inaccuracies in repeating the words were very subtle, not wrong in the more obvious way of an actor voicing the mispronunciation that could give the sense of it feeling a little...well, acted. His way of laughing, the physicality of movement, how he stroked the frog, how he inspected Shepard and the female doctor...all of it felt natural and a little alien. I believed it. He was really great.
    Diziet Sma likes this.
  5. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

  6. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    You are right about this, it was good and I did enjoy this part.

    That is precisely my point. The focus is on Charlie as a 40.000 old year individual. Once the immense shock of “Oh my God, he is truly alive!” sinks in, the question would be (for me at least) how to maximise this incredible opportunity, not only from the purely scientific point of view, which is very straightforward, but most importantly from the anthropological one: who was truly Charlie and his people, his technological development, his language, the artistic manifestation, how did the social and gender structure work within his tribe, how did they deal with death, with nature as their environment. etc.
    At this point is when I felt a bit deflated, as Shepherd, the so called anthropologist expert steps in. He deals with Charlie in a way I found simplistic, lacking resources, a bit clueless. It was obvious that, unless you tried to set Charlie up in an environment where he could somehow pick up where he left it (not in a greenhouse own his own) he wasn’t going to cope. Charlie needed some pieces to transition between his final journey and his awakening. Without them, he was doomed regardless of how gentle and kind Shepherd’s visits were.
    Charlie was lost and therefore the only possible outcome was for him to carry on his journey and find his “God Birdy”

    Charlie’s role was very well played, and Shepherd’s too. My problem is with the story itself rather than with the acting.

    I have followed the news about this, and as there is not scientific evidence this method will succeed, it is in my view just another way of coping with our own mortality. For some cultures it was embalming, for others resurrection or even reincarnation. Currently, as science seems to have stepped into the role of religion, Cryonics is an equally valid option.
    I respect that, each to their own.
    Last edited: Nov 24, 2016
    Boreas likes this.
  7. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Of course, you're right, the methodology of the anthropologist was simplistic. But I don't see that as a problem in and of itself for the story's purpose. Resources are lacking, that's a given from the beginning. And Shepard being called the "Wunderkind" I took as sarcasm. The other doctor laid out his previous and substantial blunder as a field anthropologist. And even though Shepard acknowledges and decries his youth and inexperience for that particular fiasco, it definitely calls into question his credibility for dealing with this 'out of context' problem. And, of course, he doesn't have the requisite experience, even if he's well stocked with theories. This whole situation is beyond everyone's ambit of experience, for many by a large degree. But I think Shepard's hesitant, practical steps in dealing with Charlie were the best that could be thought of given the situation. And especially since their initially posited scenario was two weeks of observation within the vivarium, but that had to be curtailed since Charlie discovered the artificiality of the habitat within two days (?). They were thinking of him as something akin to an animal, not as a human being with curiosity and intellect.

    I think when you say "maximise this incredible opportunity," that already brings out a few problems. To really maximise this opportunity, both from a scientific and anthropological perspective, would require treating Charlie as an object rather than a human with all the rights that are due a fully functioning, sapient being. As you've already said, the main problem from the anthropological side is that Charlie cannot be interacted with in a natural habitat that he is familiar with. It's not the same thing as going to the Kalahari and interacting with and learning from the Bushmen there over a period of many months or even years. But Charlie has no natural habitat that he's truly familiar with except for the desolate ice. Perhaps he could be slowly integrated into a society of Inuits? But would that already start to contaminate the anthropological study? Once the situation was exacerbated by the helicopter and Charlie had nothing on his mind than to finish his 'dream walk', I thought the ending was a foregone conclusion. Even from the beginning, I thought that the story would have been difficult to resolve with a surviving Neanderthal, but by around halfway through the film, you realise that his death is inevitable and even necessary.

    One of my favourite scenes in the whole film is when Shepard sings Neil Young and Charlie joins in. There was a primal aspect to that scene that I really liked. The same need for something beyond the material, a need for some form of ethereal beauty by both men separated by 40,000 years of time. Even if one cannot understand the shamanistic rituals of the other, and the other is lost in the alien, scientific premise of modern civilisation, they find common ground in something transcendent.
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  8. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I follow your argumentation, given the premise of the script. However, I’m just not convinced, because I think the whole angle of the film has been a missed opportunity.
    Probably, my problem is that my opinion is based on a different version of the film I would have loved to experience, and not the Iceman I watched.

    I think this could have been done carefully with the right resources and with the competence of a better team and not necessarily treating Charlie just as an object.
    The fact is, the team suddenly finds in their hands an unique, impossible to replicate discovery. Despite the mistakes that would have surely taken place when dealing with lost-in-time -Charlie, it would have been, in my view, far more fascinating to watch an deeper exploration of the Neanderthal.

    I think that Charlie’s final walk shouldn't have been his only option, but it was the only possible outcome as result of the way the team handled him.

    Anyhow, this is fun to discuss because of our different views. Otherwise, what a bore… ;)
    Now, I’m looking forward to @TomTB's opinion.
    Boreas likes this.
  9. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    Just finished watching iceman, and enjoyed it quite a bit. Haven't read what you guys have written above (I'm quite easily swayed so thought I'd go straight in with my opinion without any influencers).

    The acting was superb, particularly Charlie. I was expecting something a little bit cheesy, and it wasn't at all. His mannerisms and vocal parts were excellently done.

    The setting was perfect for the concept of the film. The isolated Arctic (?) research lab was the right backdrop to what they were trying to achieve. An urban setting or similar wouldn't have worked.

    It was great watching Shepherd trying to communicate with Charlie. When they were singing together was awesome (I recognised the song but couldn't recollect what it was), one of the highlights for sure.

    It was a touch unbelievable the way it was suddenly worked out what Charlie was thinking re: The Bird God. How they came to the conclusion that Charlie blamed himself for the loss of his family and wanted to be transported to his afterlife, was a bit far fetched. Buy saying that, the ending of the film and Charlie's 'liberation' was nicely done (despite the fact the helicopter came conveniently close enough to the ground to enable Charlie to grab on).

    A good film all in all, and one I can almost guarantee I would never have watched, so thanks Boreas :)
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  10. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    Glad you liked it. I was also happy at the level of professionalism in the set designs, the film-making in general, and especially the acting. It was not even close to the kind of cheesefest a lot of the "sci-fi" films from that era are known for. This was proper science fiction. It definitely wasn't a high budget film, but I think they spent whatever money they had available very wisely to get that 'realism' vibe.
    I wouldn't think it's the Artic exactly but somewhere close to the Artic Circle perhaps? Definitely somewhere far north in Canada. They could have transported Charlie to better facilities immediately but didn't because of a combination of needing to keep secrecy + wanting to try their own hand at it first. Plus, a more civilised location would never have lent the story the kind of urgency that it had by the end.
    Actually, I didn't find it all that unbelievable. Shepard might already have had an inkling that he was referring to some sort of supernatural element, but it was the revelation that the pattern of sounds or word that Charlie was uttering was very similar to an Inuit word that really cinched it. At least, that Inuit elder thought he recognised it from his own mythology, and then knowing what the Inuit association was, and having seen Charlie's reaction to that helicopter, it wasn't that far fetched to guess that the Inuit word and idea it represented might be cognate with Charlie's word. A decent working hypothesis, at least.
    I didn't think that was the conclusion. They were hypothesising that Charlie had gone off on a dream walk to find an answer to his tribe's problems. It could have been a food shortage, changing weather patterns including flipped magnetic poles (this was a good addition to the dialogue that I really liked - there have been a number of such flips (all there in the geological record) that have adversely affected weather patterns for short intervals) or some other calamity. Later interaction with Charlie revealed that he thought his family was still alive because he was asking about his kids.
    Ha, yeah, that was unbelievably convenient. And instead of staying close to the ground, they went like a couple of kilometres up instead so that Charlie could have a spectacularly glorious death. I can imagine them going up a little bit because there isn't a decent landing spot, or the ice has broken or they have to avoid some of the higher, irregular terrain. That was just a convenient plot point to achieve the end result. There is just one other all too convenient scene that I can think off, that Charlie is so easily able to get out of the vivarium.

    The more I think about it, the more I find it to be a pretty solid film. I feel that the mishandling by the scientists and anthropologist of the situation was a deliberate point of story. And the writers didn't just handwave that away as there were numerous references to all their fuck-ups. They were in over their heads. And after Charlie stabs that guy - it's never expressed whether that 'industrial accident' he suffered was fatal or not (I feel that the guy survived) - the head honcho has enough and shuts down their efforts with the implication that Charlie is going to be flown to more appropriate installations with people better able to deal with the situation. But of course, Shepard decides to help Charlie out since freedom (with the strong possibility of death) is preferable to continued life in confinement as a specimen for study.

    Another favourite element of the movie was the linguist. They were quite forward thinking with their story to actually get a trained linguist to record and analyse those voice patterns. That made the movie even more believable for me. So, kudos to the writers.
    Diziet Sma likes this.
  11. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    I'm happy you enjoy it @TomTB, Well, I guess I'm in the minority here...:)
    This is not just for the sake of contradicting you, really :D but I found Charlie's speech beautifully acted but inaccurate.
    I read a while ago that Neanderthal speech was as human as ours. The discovery of a tiny bone in a Neanderthal 's throat remains confirmed this (I' m too lazy to look up the name right now) This bone allowed them to vocalise as CroMagnons would.
    Hence I found the grunting a bit unnecessary noisy...
  12. Boreas

    Boreas n log(log n) Staff Member

    That's good to know, thanks! But couldn't you imagine, say, a Mowgli who'd just been found in the wild vocalising similarly for the first week or so?
  13. Diziet Sma

    Diziet Sma Administrator Staff Member

    Right. Point to you...:(
  14. TomTB

    TomTB Administrator Staff Member

    Definitely. The entire film was a lesson in how not to handle the situation. It was a battle of science, human science vs biological science, and what happens when faced with this unique situation - i.e. the inability to deal with that situation! Charlie was just the backdrop to this.

    We learn from mistakes .. the problem in this instance is that they would never get the chance to have a second bite of the cherry. The anthropologist wises up to the situation though, with his poignant smile at the close of the film being 'the happy ending' despite the failure of the handling of the situation.

    Sorry for writing situation so many times :)

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