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TV REVIEWS : 'Ordeal in the Arctic' Offers True-Life Story of Survival

February 15, 1993|CHRIS WILLMAN

The made-for-TV plane-crash picture "Ordeal in the Arctic" may be fortunate in following so closely on the heels of "Alive," at least in its ability to draw the curious as a companion piece, but comparison shoppers won't find the juxtaposition swinging in this one's favor.

Considerable heroism is involved in this true-life survival story, to be sure--but, truth be told, it's mostly a bunch of people sitting around in the dark shivering.

This "Ordeal" (airing at 9 tonight on ABC, Channels 7, 3, 10 and 42) follows the ill-fated flight of a Canadian Forces cargo plane on its way from Greenland to a remote military base far up in the land of no sunlight. The flight unexpectedly crashes mere miles from the base, but within those miles is a virtually insurmountable gorge and an impending blizzard, leaving the survivors trapped and helpless in the sub-zero endless night.

Sensationalistic elements are in short supply: The wait for help was only 32 hours, so--unlike "Alive"--this wasn't a dinner flight. There's more of the triumph-of-the-human-spirit stuff, but not quite enough, with most of the characters merely awaiting rescue as best they can while we get brief glimpses of the search teams.

Paul Edwards' script doesn't get much more profound than myriad variations on "Hang on, people, hang on." (You're fairly grateful when the small-talk hours eventually give way to the too-frostbitten-to-fraternize hours.) But despite the lack of good dialogue or exhalations in the air, director Mark Sobel creates enough palpable hopelessness among his chilly, quickly waning crew that it's hard not to cheer when help is finally on the horizon.

Melanie Mayron is wasted as a paralyzed victim, and Catherine Mary Stewart seems miscast as the inexplicably lively doctor who rallies one and all.

But, although he hasn't been given much of a character to chew on, Richard Chamberlain plays the part of the sacrificial pilot.

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