Monday, March 14, 2011

Ice Road Truckers – The Complete Season 4 Blu-ray Review

If you like shows about insanely dangerous jobs like The Deadliest Catch, then you are sure to love Ice Road Truckers.  As they say at the start of each show, “At the top of the world, there’s a job only a few would dare.” Those few include the drivers from the Carlile trucking company who are now driving to even more remote and dangerous locations than before.

Film (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Two months out of the year, the frozen lakes in Alaska freeze solid enough to allow heavily loaded trucks to cross over them.  Small Alaskan towns like Bettles and Nuisqut are so remote that they are completely dependent on the supplies delivered by trucks during that brief window each year.  Trucking companies like Carlile make the dangerous journey across the ice but it’s never a guarantee thanks to the weather.
Even the normal route down the Dalton Highway is extremely hazardous.  With icy, slick roads, and frequent zero visibility, it’s already claimed many lives as can be seen by the memorial markers alongside the road.  The highway even has colorful names for its many dangerous areas such as the roller-coaster with its sheer drop that quickly becomes a steep hill to climb, or the slippery ice cut where many drivers slide into the ditch.  The road is so dangerous that all the drivers constantly talk to each other to verify positions or warn each other because there is no room for error.  One mistake can kill a lot of people.
The show follows six drivers who are participating in the “Dash for Cash,” a race to see who can deliver the most shipments in the two month period.  The drivers include:
  • Lisa Kelly – This is her second year on the show and she is determined to be allowed to drive larger loads so she can make more money which will allow her to buy her horse back that she had to sell.  As the only woman on the team (and on the show) she has to deal with sexism from the other truckers which makes her want to succeed even more.
  • Jack Jessee – Last year’s winner of the contest and one of the most talented truckers around.  Jack’s only problem is that is only worried about his own schedule which infuriates many of his fellow drivers when he is late because he won’t eat his breakfast quick enough.  Jack also doesn’t hesitate to help fellow drivers out and isn’t as worried about winning since he keeps getting assigned the most dangerous loads to deliver.
  • Alex Deborgorski – Back on the show after taking a break for medical reasons, Alex is by far the most altruistic of the bunch and spends the majority of the season helping other people which affects his delivery count.  Alex also has a friendly rivalry with Hugh Rowland and they constantly try to beat each other daily.
  • Hugh Rowland – If there is a villain on the show it’s definitely Hugh who looks like Larry the Cable Guy’s older and fatter brother.  He’s ruthless, competitive, and has no problem laughing at someone in trouble at the side of the road as he drives by.  He is the most reckless driver on the show and honestly seems like a menace to society.  There’s a reason why his boss said that Hugh would not return to work for Carlile as long as he was there.
  • Ray Vellieux – A newcomer to the team and a rookie ice road trucker, Ray has come to Alaska to make some serious money since his construction business in Montana went out of business.  For a good part of the show Ray took risky chances and never believed in chains on his tires until enough bad things happened that he learned to respect the road and to start driving safer.  With his family still in Montana, Ray is unhappy to be away from them but also determined to do well while he is apart from them.
  • Greg Broadwine – A more appropriate last name for Greg would be BroadWHINE as he constantly complains throughout the show about the other drivers, his truck, and the loads he is getting.  Honestly, after flipping a truck in the previous season, he should be grateful that he even still has a job but no such luck.  Towards the end of this season, Greg will do some incredibly stupid stunts that really made me hope that he would be fired.
I had seen a little of this show while I visited by in-laws but this was the first time I watched an entire season.  This isn’t the kind of show where you need to see the previous seasons to know what’s going on as it’s very self-contained.  The inherent danger that each trip brings makes the show always interesting to watch although some of the drivers like Greg and Hugh just got on my nerves.  All of the drivers have their flaws front and center and the show doesn’t attempt to whitewash them.  It’s pretty easy to pick favorites to cheer for to win the contest.

Video (4 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080i (1.78:1) transfer looks really good, especially during the daytime shots of Alaska.  The quality varies depending on what’s being filmed at the time.  The nigh-time shots and the interior cab scenes have been filmed in low light situations and have a lot of grain and noise in them while the outside shots look fantastic and really show off the panoramic landscape of Alaska.  With the bulk of the show being filmed on the road, there isn’t a lot of color present since it’s mostly white snow surroundings but when it does pop up (like their road hazard jackets) it looks good.  Black levels are mostly good and contrast is decent too.  Flesh tones are accurate and consistent.  There’s some archive footage that is incorporated into the show to offer some historical insights and of course doesn’t look as good as the rest of the recent footage.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars)

Ice Road Truckers has a good lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mix that does a respectable job despite not being a full blown 5.1 mix.  Dialogue is clear even during the driving scenes or conversations outside during a snow storm.  The music and sound effects are woven well in with the dialogue and never drown it out. The mix does a good job capturing the roar of the trucks and the freezing atmosphere that the drivers have to work in.

Special Features (2 out of 5 stars) 

The set doesn’t offer much as far as bonus features but at least they added something.
  • Bonus Footage – It’s just longer introductions to the new drivers and some extra scenes that were cut from the show.  There really wasn’t anything that was too interesting and this could be skipped.

Final Thoughts (3 out of 5 stars) 

Watching these drivers drive across frozen lakes that are melting keeps your attention since you never know if the truck will crash through or not.  The show adds some CGI scenarios showing the worst case scenarios of whatever is happening on the show to give the viewers an idea of the danger involved, and also I suspect a vicarious thrill.  The show does offer a lot of real accidents too and some really dangerous situations and I have to say that liked it more than I thought I would.
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