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Chris Hicks: True and tragic, ‘White Thunder’ will cause chills

SHARE Chris Hicks: True and tragic, ‘White Thunder’ will cause chills

Among the DVDs reviewed in ‘The Letter’ hits DVD is "Ice Station Zebra," which has some scenes on (and under) the ice that made it a bit difficult to watch a few nights ago . . . because the weather outside was frightful.

Note to DVD makers: Movies set in the Frozen North should only be released during the summer.

But there's another new DVD out there, an icebound epic that will give you even more chills.

And it's a true story.

"White Thunder: The Story of Varick Frissell and 'The Viking' Disaster" (Image/Milestone, 2002, not rated, b/w, $29.99). With 70-year-old film footage of a cinematic expedition, "White Thunder" is a gripping documentary that tells the ill-fated story of New York filmmaker Varick Frissell, his Hollywood movie crew, and the seamen he hired in Newfoundland to make a picture titled "The Viking."

Frissell had already made two successful silent documentaries when he approached Paramount Pictures in 1931 about backing "The Viking," a sound film with Hollywood actors in a storyline that would be mixed with actual seal-hunting footage shot in Newfoundland.

"White Thunder" documents that things went swimmingly for the initial shoot, much of which was shot aboard the S.S. Viking, and Frissell returned to New York to assemble his film. But then he gathered his crew again and returned to Newfoundland to get a few final "pick-up shots," and tragedy struck.

Frissell and 28 others were killed on the Viking when there was an onboard accidental explosion of unknown origin (though some theories are suggested).

Today, this event still ranks among the worst tragedies in the history of moviemaking. The documentary manages to round up family members of those who were involved in the production, and the story that unfolds is both fascinating and sad.

The bonus features include "The Viking" as it was eventually released (and while the Hollywood material is quite weak, with poor acting and stilted dialogue, the outdoor scenes with the sealers are absolutely amazing; watch those ice floes as they shift up and down).

Also mesmerizing are the two earlier Frissell documentaries, "The Lure of the Labrador" (1926) and "The Swilin' Racket" (a k a "Great Arctic Seal Hunt," 1928), which are included on this disc, as well as several silent outtakes from "The Viking."

Extras: Full frame, outtakes, three films by Frissell, photo gallery, DVD-Rom applications, chapters. (If you can't find it in a local store, phone 800-603-1104.)

MEANWHILE, DISNEY has apparently been paying attention.

DVD fans on a budget have long lamented that there aren't any classic Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck or Goofy cartoons on more affordable collections than the comprehensive but pricey "Walt Disney Treasures" sets.

So here comes the "Classic Cartoon Favorites" series, single-disc collections of seven to nine 'toons at a cheaper price ($14.99 each, which usually translates to $10 or $11).

— "Classic Cartoon Favorites, Volume 1: Starring Mickey"

— "Classic Cartoon Favorites, Volume 2: Starring Donald"

— "Classic Cartoon Favorites, Volume 3: Starring Goofy"

— "Classic Cartoon Favorites, Volume 4: Starring Chip 'n' Dale"

There are seven 'toons on "Mickey," eight on "Donald" and nine each on "Goofy" and "Chip 'n' Dale."

The selections here are good ones, favorites that will be remembered by baby boomers.

"Mickey" includes "Orphan's Picnic" and "Moving Day," and "Donald" has "Bee at the Beach." The "Goofy" disc concentrates on his "how-to" shorts, with "The Art of Skiing," "How to Fish," How to Swim" and "How to Dance."

And this may be the first time "Chip 'n' Dale" appearances have been gathered together.

These are bare-bones discs, so don't look for bonus features.

E-mail: hicks@desnews.com