Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Review - Whiteout: Melt

Whiteout: Melt
Written by Greg Rucka; art by Steve Lieber
2000 Eisner Winner for Best Limited Series

The movie adaptation of Whiteout was released last week to unanimous critical response. The critics all responded that it was one of the worst movies of the year. Fortunately I didn't have a first hand experience with the movie but I am disappointed. The original Whiteout graphic novel was an interesting crime story blended with a particularly exotic environment. The movie on the other hand apparently abandons that story in favor of one that is loosely based on Whiteout: Melt which was the start of that film's problems.

After getting to the bottom of Antarctica's first crime spree Marshal Carrie Stetko is called in to look into an explosion at a Russian research station. There she finds that the Russians had been storing a nuclear bomb there in violation of international treaties. That bomb has been stolen by commandos who set out across the ice flows to escape. Stetko and a Russian agent pursue them into the dangerous Antarctic wilderness.

If there's one phrase that's going to put me to sleep it's "stolen nuclear bomb". It's gotten to the point that if a real world terrorist organization actually did this I'd have to mock them for their lack of originality.

I'm not incredibly surprised that the movie took more from Melt than the original Whiteout; Melt reads like a pitch for a by-the-numbers Hollywood "thriller". It can't be a simple story of greed and murder so the stakes are a stolen nuclear bomb. You can't have a pair of women as the protagonists so there has to be a male lead. And obviously there has to be some romantic spice to it no matter how implausible it is for the two of them to get together. Those details about how difficult the Antarctic environment is to deal with that are critical plot points in the original are just too hard to convey; better to just have a blizzard and a crevasse which everyone can understand.

The best aspects of Melt go back to the original Whiteout. It is made clear early on in the story that despite being commandos the villains are inadequately prepared for Antarctica. The Siberian winter and the arctic are practically mild compared to the conditions on Antarctic plateau. The pursuit that makes up the majority of the story is not as foolishly lopsided as it may appear at first glance since those highly trained soldiers drop like flies to the cold.

I have to give Steve Lieber a lot of credit for his work here. Superficially it doesn't look like much. His artwork is perfectly competent but it doesn't have a lot "Wow" factor. Then when you consider that he's working with near featureless white landscapes with characters who spend most of the time bundled up and it becomes clear just how much skill it takes to do this story well. The way that he managed to present all of action so smoothly is phenominal.

I'm being a bit hard on Melt with the comparisons to the first miniseries. That's mainly because the original was a fairly good story and the plot of Melt is just adequate. Lieber does a terrific job with what he's given but the scope of the story prevents it from being an artistic triumph. So my recommendation is to read the first Whiteout. If you like it then you may want to follow it up with Melt though if you skip the sequel you aren't really missing anything.