Ice Station Zebra (1968)

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Released 9-Aug-2006

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Action Main Menu Audio
Featurette-The Man Who Makes A Difference
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1968
Running Time 145:29
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (71:06) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Ads Then Menu
Region Coding 2,3,4 Directed By John Sturges

Warner Home Video
Starring Rock Hudson
Ernest Borgnine
Patrick McGoohan
Jim Brown
Tony Bill
Lloyd Nolan
Alf Kjellin
Gerald S. O'Loughlin
Ted Hartley
Murray Rose
Ron Masak
Sherwood Price
Lee Stanley
Case ?
RPI ? Music Michel Legrand

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.20:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.20:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
English for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Back in the dim dark Cold War days of 1968 the USS Tigerfish 3, a nuclear submarine, is sent to the Arctic to rescue men from Drift Ice Station Zebra, a British weather station. Submarine Captain Ferraday (Rock Hudson) is under orders to take along a mysterious British agent named Jones (Patrick McGoohan), as well as some marines. Apparently messages from the base indicate that men are dying and there have been explosions. A Russian satellite has also come down in the area. Along the way they pick up two suspicious characters: a second agent, Russian defector Vaslov (Ernest Borgnine), and the surly Marine Captain Anders (Jim Brown). Those suspicions turn out to be well founded when an act of sabotage threatens the boat.

    Directed by John Sturges from the 1963 novel by Alistair Maclean, Ice Station Zebra is riveting entertainment for most its running time, but near the end it runs out of steam. The suspense is very well cranked up on board the sub as it makes its way to the North Pole. This is aided not just by the claustrophobic sets and the withholding of information about the true nature of the rescue mission, but also by the spectacular underwater photography and some excellent special effects. The crew had access to a genuine American nuclear submarine for filming some of the sequences. Once on the ice the obvious studio sets can be forgiven, but as soon as we know what is really going on the level of inspiration falls dramatically. The dénouement is a bit of a let down and lacks action or excitement.

    The acting ranges from good to average. Hudson seems a bit out of his depth here, and while he is stoic he doesn't make the character of the captain much more than a sketch. McGoohan is excellent but Borgnine is very unconvincing. Brown's character just seems to have a bad attitude and not much else, though in a sense it does help with the uncertainty as to whether he is a good guy or a bad guy.

    When the cast credits were being shown at the start of the movie I saw one name that seemed familiar, but I couldn't quite place it until I saw and heard the man himself. Yes, that is our own multiple Olympic gold medallist Murray Rose as one of the submarine crew.

    The special effects are mainly very well done though there are a couple of issues. Some of the ice looks more like white cardboard, and the Russian jets seem to be able to change direction without any movement from their flaps. However some sequences are so well done that I could not distinguish between effects shots and real footage.

    While the ending might not be as well done as it could have been, the movie is pretty entertaining for most of its two-and-a-half hour running time, which is more than can be said for a lot of movies. This new DVD release does the film a great service, with a fine transfer, though the absence of substantial extras is disappointing.

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Transfer Quality


    The film is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.18:1, close to the original 2.20:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. As stated in the credits the film was shown in Cinerama. However this was not the three-screen Cinerama but a single screen version called Super Panavision 70.

    The video quality is generally excellent throughout. The transfer is sharp and clear with very few artefacts. Detail levels are very good. A few wider shots of the interior of the submarine control room are a little lacking in detail.

    Colour is very good. Flesh tones are lifelike, and the white expanses of snow and ice and the blue of the ocean are both well-rendered. Black levels are good but shadow detail is ordinary, for example a lack of detail in dark hair. This is not a serious problem as there are few dark scenes.

    I did not notice any film to video artefacts apart from some minor edge enhancement. There were some very faint scratches and a couple of sequences of jumpy frames and flickering. Otherwise the source material seems to have been in pristine condition.

    Optional subtitles in English are available in standard and hard-of-hearing versions. The dialogue is transcribed nearly verbatim in clear white font and is easy to read.

    The disc is RSDL-formatted with the layer break placed during a scene at 71:06. The placement is a little distracting as it occurs during some tense dialogue.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    As the original 70mm presentation would have included multi-track stereo, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track here is reasonably authentic. However, the soundtrack does not make much use of the multiple channels except for the music.

    Dialogue is clear throughout. I was a little disconcerted by the way the dialogue is mixed, as it tends to follow the actors across the screen. There was one instance where after a cut the audio moved from the left channel to midway between the left and centre channels, even though the shot was static and the actor did not move. As the film progressed this occurred less often, so it is only a minor complaint.

    The effects are generally spread across the front channels, with very little coming from the rears. There were plenty of low frequency effects, though they tended to be used more with the music than with the sound effects.

    The film has excellent and sweeping music by Michel Legrand, used at its best during the sequences showing the submarine moving through the waves. It is a full orchestral score with some raspy brass. It comes across much better than the rest of the soundtrack, probably due to having a better multichannel recording. The LFE channel is used generously to augment the bass in the score, and it also gives the rear channels a workout. The original film presentation had an overture, intermission, entr'acte and exit music, and they are all included here.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use


    A fairly meagre extras package.

Main Menu Audio

    The static main menu has an extract from the score.

Theatrical Trailer (2:10)

    A 16x9 enhanced original trailer which seems more dated than the film.

Trailers (6:52)

    Trailers for Bad Day at Black Rock and Giant. The latter is full screen and not 16x9 enhanced.

Featurette-The Man Who Makes A Difference (6:56)

    The man of the title is second-unit cameraman John M. Stephens, who did the spectacular external photography on the nuclear submarine. This featurette was a promotional piece for Ice Station Zebra, but it also covers some of his amazing camerawork on skis, water skis and surfboards. Widescreen and 16x9 enhanced.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The only difference between the Region 1 and the Region 4, apart from the video format, is that the Region 1 has an additional trailer for Where Eagles Dare and a teaser for The Aviator. The latter is appropriate since Ice Station Zebra was a favourite film of Howard Hughes.


    A pretty good cold war thriller that is entertaining for most of the running time.

    The video quality is very good.

    The audio quality is excellent.

    Not much in the way of extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Monday, August 07, 2006
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS9100ES, using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-HS60 LCD Projector projected to 80" screen. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony TA-DA9000ES for surrounds, Elektra Reference power amp for mains
SpeakersMain: B&W Nautilus 800; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Tannoy Revolution R3; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV

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