History Channel // 2007 // 440 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // December 23rd, 2007
"At the top of the world, there's an outpost like no other -- and a job only a few would dare. The mission: to haul critical supplies across 350 miles of frozen lakes to Canada's remote billion-dollar diamond mines."
If you're looking for a job on the ice road between Yellowknife and the diamond mines to the north, you're out of luck this year. The History Channel's Web site says there are no openings available.
Ice Road Truckers must have had quite an impact. Its premiere was the History Channel's highest-rated original telecast with 3.4 million viewers, according to Multichannel News. The documentary series' success was one of the factors behind a deal with NBC for Original Productions, the team behind it.
The show follows a team of ice road truckers as they rush to complete an exhausting schedule of deliveries before the ice road melts for the season.
Any show that could get viewers to even contemplate leaving their cozy armchairs and nice, warm homes to drive over frozen lakes in subzero temperatures must have something going for it.
Ice Road Truckers: The Complete First Season follows "polar bear" Hugh Rowland, who manages a small fleet; Rick Yemm, Hugh's friend who wants to haul more than his boss; Drew Sherwood, a veteran trucker who's new to the ice road; Alex Debogorski, the longtime ice road trucker who's first on the ice; Jay Westgard, an ice road veteran at age 25; and T.J. Tilcox, a young rookie.
Ice Road Truckers: The Complete First Season has ten episodes over three discs:
"Ready to Roll" -- Hugh Rowland's team of truckers is introduced as the ice road is constructed. Rick Yemm vows to haul more loads than his boss.
"Destination: Diamond Mine" -- Hugh is sidelined by a transmission problem. A truck goes through the ice and another stalls, blocking the ice road.
"Dash for the Cash" -- The first blizzard of the season finds more than fifty drivers still on the closed road, unable to stop until they reach safe ground.
"The Big Chill" -- Drew Sherwood gets his truck out of the garage, but can't get on the road because of an overturned tanker truck.
"Midseason Mayhem" -- A speeding ticket could cost a trucker his job. T.J. Tilcox has a minor collision with a pickup truck.
"Driving on Thin Ice" -- Jay Westgard's hauling one of the biggest loads of the season, a scrubber for the De Beers mine. The road collapses under a tanker.
"The Rookie Challenge" -- "Eleven loads and I've had eight breakdown issues," Drew complains; he's considering heading home. T.J. has abdominal pains on the road.
"Into the Whiteout" -- As the season's worst blizzard arrives, a convoy heads out onto the ice road. Three truckers are lost in the storm. Meanwhile, a new driver arrives in Yellowknife.
"The Big Melt" -- Plagued by winter storms and a truck's leaky fuel tank, a convoy heads to Deline with the village's jet fuel supply. Longer days mean more sunshine -- and the beginning of the end of the ice road.
"The Final Run" -- As temperatures reach the low thirties, the end of the ice road is near. The last remaining truckers race to haul the most loads.
At some point during Ice Road Truckers, you'll almost certainly get tired of that overly dramatic narrator and his truisms like, "The rewards are great, the risks are greater." He's also constantly pointing out the rivalry between the truckers, even though there's so much else going on. To put it bluntly, the narration's kind of cheesy. You also might tire of the 24-style split screens they use occasionally, CGI renderings of ice melting and other hazards, and a special effects sequence of a truck falling through ice.
That said, the overall documentary is solid. It shows winter on the ice road from every angle imaginable -- from the truckers to the road-building crews to the mechanics to the divers who salvage trucks that fall through -- and makes you feel like you're there. When you hear a faint noise like cracking ice as a truck crosses a frozen lake, you'll be saying a prayer along with Drew Sherwood, who's a veteran trucker but never dealt with anything like this.
The camaraderie seen at the start gives way to flaring tempers as the ice road season progresses, with everybody dealing with storms, repairs, and delays without a lot of sleep. It seems like the bleeps are more frequent as the season goes on. Many of them are directed at Hugh Rowland, Sherwood's and Rick Yemm's boss, who seems oblivious to anything but his goal for the year.
The picture isn't perfect, since all the night shooting brings out a lot of grain. When the production team didn't have to push the picture, which was recorded to DVDs, it looks good. The sound's muffled at times, but that seems to be because of filming condistions; subtitles are included at the worst points.
The DVD set includes a lot of extras. Most substantial is Dangerous Missions: Ice Road Truckers, the 2000 documentary which inspired the show. The tone's more educational than the series, but if you've gotten into Ice Road Truckers, you'll want to see it. Included is an interview with road pioneer John B. Denison.
The rest of the extras -- 45 minutes worth -- are a mix of bits that sound promotional and outtakes you'll want to see. The best bits are "Shooting at Minus 60," about the high-definition cameras used to bring the show to life; "Todd's Ice Road Song," a music video; "Alex Sets Off Explosives," which shows him prospecting in the off-season; and "Bananas," which shows how a frozen banana can be used as a hammer (this is diluted somewhat by a bit on frozen ramen art later). These are all grouped under five headers, so you'll have to sit through at least a few less interesting moments in "Overcoming the Challenges," "Perils of the Ice Road," and "Behind the Scenes" to get to the best stuff.
The "Truck Through Ice" segment shows the special effects crew at work on the oft-repeated dramatic moment. I didn't realize this was a special effects scene until I saw the feature; I felt a little cheated when I did. The producers got real drama out of the everyday struggles of the truckers; there's no need to interrupt that world with a special effects sequence, even if the danger is real.
With all the recaps and teasers, Ice Road Truckers was intended for TV -- and stopping itchy remote fingers. And some of you might not consider a truck repair to be dramatic television, no matter what the conditions.
Covering the activity on the ice road from all angles, Ice Road Truckers did give me a feeling of being there. I can see why some viewers believe they could take on the ice road after watching it. Watching even veteran truckers wash out should be an indicator that you don't know until you get there, though.
Even if it doesn't prepare you for the road, Ice Road Truckers is good television. The DVD set is called Ice Road Truckers: The Complete First Season, but it's hard to see anything they missed in this batch of ten episodes, so a second season might turn out to be more of the same.
Not guilty. Too bad they couldn't put a McDonald's at Portage 49, though.
Review content copyright © 2007 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: History Channel
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 440 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Dangerous Missions: Ice Road Truckers
* Meet The Truckers
* Overcoming the Challenges
* Perils of the Ice Road
* Behind the Scenes
* The Countdown
* IMDb: Dangerous Missions: Ice Road Truckers
* Official Site
* Multichannel News: "Ice Road Truckers Sets Ratings Record"