It is a scientific fact that dinosaurs, monsters, Captain America, and especially cavemen can survive beyond their natural lifespan by suddenly being frozen in ice to be thawed out by well-meaning scientists sometime in the future. This isn’t just movie magic folks…this stuff is legit! If only. Of course, most of the time the unfrozen caveman gimmick pops up in sci-fi or comedy films. Our film today, however, is a straight drama featuring a revived cave-sicle…1984’s Iceman.
Our film begins as anthropologist Stan Shepherd (Timothy Hutton) has been brought to an arctic research facility to examine a recent find. It seems scientists have discovered an intact body of a Neanderthal (John Loan) frozen in the ice. The find is an incredible scientific discovery and the crew (including Lindsay Crouse, David Strathairn, Danny Glover and James Tolkan) are anxious to start getting samples. As they get the guy thawed out, though, they begin to notice brain activity. Soon there is enough going on in his noggin that they attempt to revive him. Wouldn’t you know it, they succeed.
Even with a living breathing caveman on their hands, the docs still seem to want to cut up and study poor Barney Rubble. They figure his cells hold the key to being able to freeze people who are sick until cures for their diseases can be found. Shepherd, on the other hand, is determined to learn about the man himself. The other docs soon agree and allow the caveman, who Shepherd later dubs “Charlie,” to live in a large animal enclosure where he can live much like he would’ve in the wild. Gradually, Shepherd begins to spend time with Charlie, making a connection and even starting to learn some his language. Shepherd soon starts to realize, though, that there will never be a place for Charlie in the modern world and that the iceman has a spiritual quest he needs to complete. This leads to Shepherd helping the caveman escape to fulfill his destiny.
I was surprised at how well Iceman worked. Though the unfrozen caveman idea is one that Hollywood has used many times, there is always something a bit goofy about it. That’s not the case here. Iceman is very believable in the way in approaches the science of the story. They don’t just stick the ice cube under the heat lamp for a few hours until Captain Caveman blinks his eyes. Actually, the scientists don’t go into it with the thought of reviving him. They just want some cells. They’re as shocked as anyone when his ticker starts ticking again.
As the film progressed I kept thinking of the famous line from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. You remember, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.” The doctor characters here are not evil, but they see Charlie as expendable to save millions of others. They really don’t see him as human. Shepherd, on the other hand, ends up putting his own life and career in jeopardy in the interest of the needs of the one. Come to think of it, Charlie’s quest is all about him sacrificing himself for his suffering tribe. For a film about an unfrozen caveman, it can be pretty deep
The whole cast does a great job, Hutton especially. The soul of the film really is John Lone, though, who puts in an incredible performance. Even without any understandable dialogue, he is the character with the most depth. Lone doesn’t just approach Charlie as a child needing to be taught. There is a complexity to him. You can see that he is trying to learn about, and in some ways train, Hutton’s characters just as Hutton is doing to him.
Really, the only problem I had with the film was it’s ending, which is just a bit on the silly side. I get what the filmmakers were going for, but given how well constructed and intelligent the rest of the film is, the ending just seems to go off the deep end for me. Still, I found Iceman to be a thoroughly engrossing film that takes a fantasy premise and makes it very believable.