The Other Side of the Ice Straddles the Line Between Magnificence and Mundanity


Part home movie, part reality TV-style confess-to-the-camera bitchfest, and part low-key adventure doc, Sprague Thobald’s The Other Side of the Ice is best encapsulated by this moment about halfway through the runtime: “What do you think, Greg?” a voice asks from offscreen, as Greg—part of a yachting party pressing through the Northwest Passage in 2009—surveys a fog-shrouded expanse of lower Arctic summer grayness. “I think it’s pretty darn amazing,” Greg replies, flatly. But then, just as you’re wondering “Why am I watching real people be miserable and not especially interesting in inhospitable places?” Greg and the movie perk up appreciably: “A polar bear!” he shouts. The camera zooms, and yes, there on the coast, the beast lumbers along, majestic and everyday at once—just what the movie’s trying to be. The first 20 minutes are blown with members of Thobald’s family and crews (boat and doc) carping at each other as Thobald’s boat, the Bagan, pushes from Rhode Island to the infamous, ice-choked sea route. This bickering—which abates for a while but comes back as the ice thickens—isn’t especially interesting; it hasn’t been shaped for drama or revelation. The footage of orcas and icebergs is gorgeous, and the sequences where Theobald and Co. must race to beat the end-of-summer ice boast a cold tension. But too much of the movie is just people being crabby (or, later, dumb!) in fascinating places, which is less enthralling than the places themselves. Another moment encapsulating the film’s peculiar magnificence/mundanity: Once they’ve made it though the passage, Theobald notes exactly what has been accomplished: “We’re the first American boat this year.” Then he qualifies: “The first power boat.” Seriously, congratulations, but how about a doc about the folks who did it first? Or the passage itself?

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