Storydome: The Ice Harvest

As Wichita Falls, so falls Wichita Falls.

Charlie Arglist just did a bad thing. Well, good for him, but bad for other people. But if he isn’t quick to get out of town, it’s going to be real bad for him too. Unfortunately for Charlie, every road in and out of Wichita, Kansas is shut down because of a massive ice storm. With no way out of town, it only makes sense that Charlie stops off at a strip club called the Sweet Cage – because after you’ve just committed a crime there is no better place to spend Christmas Eve.

No ice storm is going to stop this book and movie from battling it out.

Two stories enter, one story leaves when The Ice Harvest steps into the Storydome.

The Contenders

 The Book
Title: The Ice Harvest
Author: Scott Phillips
Published: 2000
Pages: 224
The Movie
Title: The Ice Harvest
Director: Harold Ramis
Released: 2005
Length: 92 minutes
Starring: John Cusack as Charlie Arglist
Billy Bob Thorton as Vic Cavanaugh
Connie Nielsen as Renata Crest

  It should go without saying. There are SPOILERS ahead.

It’s 1979 in Wichita, Kansas, it’s Christmas Eve, and Charlie Arglist just made away with $250,000 of his boss’s money. Charlie is an attorney for Wichita’s underbelly and after learning how the mob business works, he comes up with a plan to make his fortune. But Charlie isn’t much of a doer, he’s more of a planner, so he enlists the help of the far less scrupulous Vic Cavanaugh. Everything goes off without a hitch, or at least that’s what it seems like to Charlie. The reality is that everything is a complete clusterf@%#. The source of all this chaos has a name: Renata.

I’d love to be able to go into more detail about the story but, truthfully, the story is a complete mess. But! It’s a mess in the most wonderfully entertaining way possible. The story is supposed to be a mess, and it’s a perfect example of Murphy’s Law.

When I was reading the novel, I was engrossed in entertainment value alone. The Ice Harvest has some of the greatest dialogue and one-liners I have ever read. To me, the novel read like a Tarantino movie, in that it was chaotic and foul-mouthed, while at the same time being stylish and charismatic. Truly, the novel was just flat-out fun. When I describe what I love about the book, it almost sounds as if I’m talking about a movie, but that’s because the story almost moves like a movie. The book is a very short 224 pages. I finished the book in only a couple of hours, but that has more to do with Phillips’ stylistic prose than anything else. I was incredibly impressed with the fact that this is Philips’ first novel because his writing style seems far too developed for a first time novelist.

The Ice Harvest has a rather unique cast of characters; everyone is a borderline criminal and that’s half the fun. Now if it was that simply every character was a stock quasi-criminal type figure, they wouldn’t be enjoyable and they most definitely wouldn’t be unique. But that’s not the case. Phillips gives the reader enough of a sense of his characters to know that they are truly his characters, but he doesn’t let the story get slowed down with too many details.

With all that in mind, I was so excited for this movie when I popped it in the DVD player. I looked at the casting of John Cusack and Billy Bob Thorton as spot-on. And with Harold Ramis directing, I was sure that the movie would have the same fantastic dark wit that the novel has.

Holy Hell, was I wrong!

Well not entirely, I was right about John Cusack and Billy Bob Thorton. I always enjoy John Cusack in dark comedies – Grosse Point Blank being a perfect example, and one of my all-time favorite comedies – and really, all Billy Bob had to do was be the same character he is in, like, half of his movies and he would be fine. But there is something off about the movie.

The movie is a dark comedy, that’s for sure, but it has a different kind of wit about it. The first problem is that a lot of the dialogue was changed. The dialogue was my favorite thing about the novel and it reads very cinematically. So, my question to the screenwriter is this: why did you change it? The changes aren’t even that huge, but what they did is take out some of the more unusual words and phrases and replace them with things you hear all the time. What was the point of that?

Secondly, they changed the ending for all the wrong reasons. In the novel, as Charlie is making his getaway, he stops on the side of the road to help an old couple who is having car trouble. Unfortunately Charlie gets accidentally run over, and he dies. Tragic, but so fitting in the story that I kind of smiled as I read it. The movie ditches the complicated ending in favor of letting Charlie make off with the cash, but if you paid any attention to the story you realize that Phillip’s ending is the far more deserved ending.

Ultimately, the movie came off as flat and unremarkable and I wasn’t too far into it when I felt bored. To be fair, I’m not sure if it’s anything the movie is doing wrong, or if this is more of a result of what the novel did right.

Winner of Storydome: The book, via first-round knockout.

Typically, I would add something afterward to explain my decision, but this wasn’t even a remotely hard one. So instead, I’m just going to go read the novel again.

One side note: I want to mention that Connie Nielsen was incredibly seductive as Renata, and her character was the closest to the character in the novel. And Oliver Platt was hysterical; he took a pretty minor character from the novel and made it his own. Bravo, Oliver.

Disagree with my assessment? Let me know about it in the comments section.

I’ll be back next week, as a new story steps into the ring.

— Tim Fitzpatrick, Editor

Editor’s Note: Tim Fitzpatrick is an English major at Lewis University with a focus on creative writing. Tim is 26 and is only just now starting college. He has always enjoyed telling a good story, and he is at Lewis to learn to do that better.

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