Iceman (1984 film)

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Iceman poster.jpg
Original film poster
Directed by Fred Schepisi
Produced by Norman Jewison
Charles Milhaupt
Patrick J. Palmer
Written by John Drimmer
Chip Proser
Music by Bruce Smeaton
Cinematography Ian Baker
Edited by Billy Weber
Distributed by Universal Studios
Release date
  • April 13, 1984 (1984-04-13)
Running time
100 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Box office $7,343,032[1]

Iceman is a 1984 American science fiction film from Universal Studios. The screenplay was written by John Drimmer and Chip Proser, and was directed by Fred Schepisi. The cast included John Lone, Timothy Hutton, Lindsay Crouse and Danny Glover.

It was filmed in color with Dolby sound and ran for 100 minutes. The DVD version was released in 2004.


Anthropologist Stanley Shephard (Timothy Hutton) is brought to an arctic base when explorers discover the body of a prehistoric man (John Lone) who has been frozen in a block of ice for 40,000 years. After thawing the body to perform an autopsy, scientists discover to their amazement a real possibility to revive him and their attempt to resuscitate the "iceman" proves successful.

While being revived, the dazed caveman is alarmed by the surgical-masked figures; only Shephard has the presence of mind to remove his mask and reveal his humanity and somewhat familiar face to the terrified caveman, permitting the caveman to settle back into a more peaceful sleep and make a full recovery.

The scientists place the caveman in an artificial, simulated environment for study. The caveman quickly discovers the modern apparatus and environmental controls, and understands he is still far from home. Shephard believes that the caveman's culture may provide clues to learning about the human body's adaptability, citing ceremonies such as firewalking and the Sun Dance. Several other scientists in the research base see the potential in studying the caveman's DNA and his survival in the ice, as they see it mainly as a case to advance medical science by "freezing" the sick or injured in order to suspend their bodies until treatment.

Shephard's affinity with the caveman grows to the degree that he begins to defend the caveman's right to be considered a human being and not a scientific specimen. Despite opposition from the rest of the staff, Shephard initiates an encounter with the caveman. Shephard names him "Charlie" after the iceman introduces himself as "Char-u". Shephard and Charlie bond, but it becomes obvious to the anthropologist that Charlie misses his world; he is terrified and confused by the unknown world in which he awakens.

An eminent linguist is brought to the Arctic base to help understand Charlie's language. As Shephard begins to communicate with Charlie, he realizes that he will never be able to help Charlie understand that the world and community he came from have long since disappeared. This fact is made even more poignant when Shephard introduces Charlie to a female colleague, Dr. Diane Brady (Lindsay Crouse). Assuming that the woman is Shephard's mate, Charlie makes chalk marks which indicate that he likely was a married man with children before he was frozen.

Shephard strives to understand what motivates Charlie and why, of all the cavemen, he should survive being frozen. At one point, Shephard begins to sing "Heart of Gold", inspiring Charlie to sing one of his own songs. Charlie's seemingly incidental bird-like line drawings in the ground resembling body markings on his chest take on a new significance when the base's helicopter strays over the roof of the base's artificial tropical eco-zone, causing Charlie to take on an almost obsessive zeal as he climbs towards the roof. Shouting the word Beedha over and over, he lifts his arms towards the helicopter in a sign of obvious worship. Even though the helicopter pulls away from the dome, Shephard knows that Charlie can now think of nothing else.

Charlie escapes after watching Shephard exit the biosphere and in a panic of seeing unfamiliar modern devices and believing there are enemies, spears Maynard (James Tolkan), one of the base's technicians. Recapturing Charlie, the other scientists, led by Dr. Singe (David Strathairn), focus on what they can learn from him, using him as a subject rather than a person. They attempt to re-freeze the iceman in order to study the effect of thawing on Charlie's physiology and determine what benefit may result. The incident goes awry as Charlie nearly dies in the attempt.

Shephard consults local Inuit who recognize the name that Charlie chanted and explain that it is a mythical bird – a messenger from the gods who comes to take good people to heaven, while sinners are sent to a kind of purgatory. Shephard has long known that Charlie has a spiritual dimension and now sees that he was on a dreamwalk pilgrimage, a mythical quest for redemption. His people were dying in the sudden ice age; he must have offered himself to the gods in the form of a self-sacrifice or appealing to the gods to redeem his tribe.

Shephard defies all protocol to help Charlie to escape, because he realizes that Charlie would never survive in the modern world, and Charlie's peace-of-mind and fulfillment are of prime importance to Shephard. Delighted with his freedom, Charlie races on ahead of Shephard as they pass by glaciers and vast ice-shelves, and a crevasse opens up in front of Shephard, cutting him off from Charlie. Meanwhile, the other personnel give chase.

The helicopter emerges over an ice-shelf before Charlie. Shephard looks on helplessly as Charlie climbs up towards the aircraft and grabs hold of one of its landing skis. In an attempt to evade Charlie's grasp, the helicopter pilot pulls up, but Charlie dangles beneath the aircraft while it continues to climb high into the sky. The co-pilot offers a hand to Charlie to save him, but an elated and ecstatic Charlie cries out and releases the aircraft, seeming to float through the sky while he plunges.

Shephard's initial horror turns into joy as he realizes that Charlie has reached his goal.



Iceman was a project linked to director Norman Jewison for several years in the 1970s. Jewison still produced the film, which was eventually made under Australian director Fred Schepisi.[2]

Exteriors were filmed in British Columbia and Manitoba.[3][4] Schepisi worked with Australian collaborators Ian Baker for cinematography and Bruce Smeaton for music.[5]


Box office[edit]

The film was released on April 13, 1984 grossing $1,836,120 (US). By the end of its four-week release, it grossed $7,343,032 (US).[6]

Critical reception[edit]

Critic Richard Scheib said, "The film was part of a brief revival of the old caveman vs dinosaurs genre, along with Quest for Fire and Clan of the Cave Bear, in which earlier action-fantasy films were redressed with a much stricter regard to anthropological realism. Iceman, using modern science, became one of the more refreshingly intelligent films. The film is knowingly well-informed on anthropology and biochemistry and never resorts to cheap cliche or hackneyed elements."[7] Harlan Ellison called the film "magnificent", citing excellent acting (particularly on the part of John Lone) and directing that contribute to genuine emotional appeal.[8]

According to Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, the film is "spellbinding storytelling". "It begins with such a simple premise and creates such a genuinely intriguing situation that we're not just entertained, we're drawn into the argument [between using Charlie as a scientific specimen or a man]".[9]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD on December 28, 2004.


  1. ^ Iceman at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ "Iceman". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved 2007-10-06.
  3. ^ "Iceman Review". Retrieved 2007-10-06.
  4. ^ "Iceman". Retrieved 2007-10-06.
  5. ^ "Iceman Review". Retrieved 2007-10-06.
  6. ^ "Movie Iceman - Box Office Data". Retrieved 2007-10-06.
  7. ^ Richard Scheib. "Iceman". Moria: Science Fiction, Horror & Fantasy Review. Archived from the original on 2007-10-19. Retrieved 2007-10-09.
  8. ^ Ellison, Harlan, Harlan Ellison's Watching, Underwood-Miller 1969, pp. 168-70.
  9. ^ Roger Ebert (1984-01-01). "Iceman". Retrieved 2017-12-27.

External links[edit]