Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 Endurance Expedition
Ice is based on what is regarded as the greatest adventure story in history, Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 Endurance Trans-Antarctic expedition. When their ship goes down in the pack ice of the Weddell Sea, the men of the expedition are left adrift on the ice, where they face certain death. Yet, through determination and the leadership of Ernest Shackleton, they ultimately achieve a remarkable rescue, without a single man lost. Their story is of the inspiring triumph of faith, hope and perseverance in the face of the impossible.
Ice begins after the death of Captain Robert Falcon Scott, who has died with his men at the South Pole only one month after Norway claims the last grand prize of polar exploration. As England mourns its bitter defeat, Scott’s former rival for the Pole, Sir Ernest Shackleton, declares that he will restore the Empire’s honor by attempting its boldest conquest, a trek on foot across the Antarctic continent.
Shackleton’s British Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914 becomes, however, a spectacular failure. The charismatic Shackleton is England’s second greatest polar hero, with two Antarctic expeditions under his belt, but he’s grown soft with success. Yet, the twenty-seven men chosen for the expedition relish his brash confidence. They would gladly follow him anywhere. Until, that is, Shackleton makes a series of risky decisions that sink the ship in the Antarctic pack ice. Rescue looks all but impossible. Shackleton now faces the test of his life: keeping the men’s faith as he attempts to save their lives.
The men are now forced to live on an ice floe—with only five feet of frozen water separating them from 2,000 fathoms of ocean beneath. As the floe drifts north, crumbling beneath them in the polar summer, Shackleton’s galvanizing leadership comes into its own, inspiring the men with hope when most are succumbing to despair. His daring plan is to drift north with the ice until open water is reached, then sail three small lifeboats to the nearest land. No one has ever attempted such a feat before, and the odds are impossibly stacked against it, but the crew clings desperately to the belief that somehow they will succeed.
As the bitter weather and lack of food take their toll, Shackleton remains supremely confident of the rescue plan and demands the same from his crew. Chippy McNeish, ship’s carpenter and a non-ranking seaman, begins to challenge Shackleton’s leadership in the belief that the men deserve to know the truth of their situation and share an equal voice in what happens to them. Their conflict escalates as the party drifts helplessly for five months on the disintegrating ice floes. Winter is racing in, bringing the vicious winds and weather that will surely kill them if starvation does not first succeed. Finally, the ice cracks open beneath them and they must launch their rescue attempt.
In three small lifeboats, they row for nearly a week without food or sleep, tossed by currents and storms and driven ever closer to death on the open sea. Finally, at the limits of human endurance, they reach Elephant Island, an uninhabited spit of black rock. The food is nearly gone and the winter pack ice is drifting in, closing off any chance of escape. The closest civilization is a whaling station on South Georgia Island, separated by 800 miles of the deadliest seas on earth. Although the feat is unimaginable, sailing to South Georgia in a 22-foot open lifeboat is their last and only hope.
Shackleton sets out with a 5-man rescue party. Their 17-day passage through the dreaded 50-foot Cape Horn rollers, hundred mile winds, and -20 degree temperatures is an epic feat in its own right. Near death, as a final hurricane splinters the boat, the party reaches South Georgia. Tragically, they are on the wrong side of the island from the whaling station and must now cross 29 miles of an unmapped island believed to be impassable. Their frigid 36-hour trek across its towering glaciers and waterfalls just about ends their story. But once again, they beat the odds. For four months, Shackleton attempts in different ships to break through the pack ice to rescue the men he left behind on the island. Certain they are dead, he reaches them at last. Miraculously, not one man has been lost.
The expedition may have failed, but the survival of Shackleton and his men against impossible odds remains history’s greatest adventure story, and Ice will be one of the most exciting feature films of its kind.