May 082011
 

A couple of inches of snow and Britain grinds to a halt; cars remain motionless, stuck on the driveways of people too afraid to risk a mild chill and the possibility of a minor skid on the way to work; but every year in Alaska, a number of hardened truck-driving veterans wait for the weather to become so cold, and so treacherous, that it freezes rivers and lakes thick enough to take the weight of their massive lorries, and begin the dash for the cash, as they transport their goods to a number of usually inaccessible towns.

Ice Road Truckers follows six such truckers, from the Carlile trucking company; who haul a number of extremely dangerous loads up the extremely dangerous road known as The Dalton (up steep inclines, down slippery slopes, around dangerous curves, and through blinding snowstorms) from the town of Fairbanks to Prudhoe Bay, and the even more remote towns of Bettles and Nuiqsut (which are only accessible for a short period of the year, across frozen waterways that have been known to buckle under the pressure of traveling trucks); as they not only risk their lives to bring supplies up the icy highway, but compete in a yearly race, to see who will be the load-count-king.

Competing this season are Jack Jesse; last years former winner, “the haul-road ace”, and a real expert trucker; Lisa Kelly; the only girl trucker on the haul-road, who’s desperate to prove herself, earn the respect of the guys, and grab the bigger loads, and the bigger paychecks that come with them; Alex Deborgorski; who’s returning to the show after an absence, is always keen to help a trucker in need, and hoping to win his friendly competition with rival driver Hugh; Hugh “The Polar Bear” Rowland; who’s a bit of a rebel, the wild-card of the team, and a reckless driver who’s not afraid to take chances to get where he wants to be, and beat not only rival Canadian Alex, but claim the title of Haul-road King; Greg Broadwine; a returning rookie who’s lucky to have a job after crashing his truck last season; and newcomer Ray “Rookie Ray” Vellieux; who’s new to the Dalton, but determined to deliver as many loads as he can, and climb the ladder to become the next Haul-road Ace.

Each episode is then concerned with watching the truckers deliver the load of the day (or the couple of days, depending on the time frame it spans), and showcasing the trials they have to endure in order to get the job done; from rows and bitterness between truckers, to sexism, ice, non-existent visibility, oversized loads, extremely flammable loads, and snowdrifts, to even narrowly avoiding avalanches, stumbling across car wrecks, hitchhikers, and coming off the road more than once; making not only each episode, but the entire season extremely self-contained.

The fact that each season of Ice Road Truckers is so self-contained makes it easy for viewers to jump in and out, miss episodes on TV, and even jump in at this seemingly late stage of the game; as while the fourth season of a TV would usually be a terrible place to join, that’s not the case with Ice Road Truckers Season 4; as it feels like it could have been the first season, and charts the dash for the cash from beginning to end, making it extremely easy to watch; as you will undoubtedly find your favourite trucker and be willing him/her on to the finish, as they rack up their load-count for the season.

Obviously Ice Road Truckers isn’t as gripping, as well made, or anywhere near as involving, as a series such as The Wire, but it’s easy to watch, easy to get behind, and is the perfect kind of show to watch when ironing, or in bed, and despite reservations about the show being too ‘samey’, it’s one you’d enjoy a lot more than you think you would.

Picture:

Despite the weather conditions (that were always going to hamper the picture quality somewhat), Ice Road Truckers Season 4 actually has a rather nice looking video presentation; that comes to Blu-ray via a 1080i, 1.78:1 transfer; with a strong level of fine detail, natural colour reproduction and skintones, adequate black levels, and decent contrast.

Where the presentation falters is in its consistency (or lack thereof); as not only does the use of archive footage bring a dip in quality, but the use of night vision cameras, the low-lit interiors of the truck cabs, and often the harsh weather conditions, leads to numerous blurry scenes, plenty of softness, and huge amounts of noise, coupled with a little aliasing; that ensures numerous noticeable jolts in quality per episode, dragging the overall image score down.

There was never going to be a way around getting the odd soft shot or grainy scene, and it’s a testament to the filmmakers that the entire series didn’t look like the poorer shots; as despite the shocking conditions, they have delivered a show with some stunning daytime shots, and a season that’s the best of the series so far.

Audio:

Coming via a DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix, the audio presentation of Ice Road Truckers Season 4 is far from astounding, yet shouldn’t disappoint fans of the show; as it’s well prioritized, contains perfectly clear and consistent dialogue throughout (which thankfully never become lost or muffled by the chaos on the Dalton), and well leveled music, but could have clearly benefitted from a 5.1 mix in places, lacks enough stereo separation to really warrant the 2.0 label, and never feels like more than a cheap TV doc.

Extras:

Fans of the show (and the stars of the show who buy the DVD’s to watch themselves at work; Lisa Kelly) will find their loyalty rewarded by this seasons selection of special features; which aren’t too expansive, but consist of a number of interviews with the truckers, longer introductions to each of the drivers you’ve followed along the Dalton, and a number of scenes that were cut from the show; including a selection of pranks the drivers play on one another, how they fare in the mornings, their lingo, and more.

It’s somewhat unfortunate that these short featurettes come with a lower quality than the main episodes of the season, yet although they’re not all that inventive, they do give a bit more of a background to the characters in the show, their way of life, and what they do; meaning they’re not all that accessible to casual viewers, but will be a great addition for fans of the show.

The Bottom Line:

Usually the fourth season of any TV show would be far from the place to start watching, yet as each season of Ice Road Truckers is an entire, self-contained, work season for the truckers, it’s as good a place as any to dive-in and witness not only the treachery of the roads these truckers have to traverse in order to keep the remote towns (and oil drilling business) in Alaska going, but the relationships of the truckers, and their exciting time competing to become the load-count-king/queen.

This season also comes to Blu-ray with decent picture quality, adequate sound, and a selection of special features that may not be the most extensive, but provide fans of the show with that bit of extra background they could be craving, and not only provides a great way to watch the show, but fill the gap until the next series.

Surprisingly Ice Road Truckers Season 4 is an easy series to watch, that’s a good deal better and more engaging than you might think it would be. If you go into it expecting high octane drama, and some adrenaline fueled races over the ice, you will be severely disappointed; it’s not a brilliant show, and can’t compete with an engrossing drama, but season 4 is a great place to jump into a good show, and as good a programme as any to watch in bed.

Matt Wheeldon.