A review of the book and the movie after the jump.
Whiteout was a four issue limited series released by Oni Press by Rucka and Lieber. Whiteout tells the story Carrie Stetko, a U.S. Marshal working at McMurdo Station in Antarctica, and her investigation of a murder that takes place there. As Stetko chases down suspects and lead, she finds more murders. Early in the story, Stetko is attacked by the killer and left for dead in a storm and as a result something horrific occurs. We also find out what Stetko has done to get herself exiled to Antarctica. In fact, the story behind who she is, what her past is, and how these actions motivate her are more interesting than the murder mystery. In her adventure Stetko teams up with
Rucka does a great job describing the isolationism of the Antarctica bases. There are very few women. In fact, the only other major female in the book is a mysterious British agent named Lily Sharpe. Whereas Stetko is chunky, dark and gruff; Sharpe, is tall, fair and witty. The two find an immediate connection, which help the women through the crisis. There is definitely an implied lesbian connection between the two women. (Rucka is no stranger to this subject matter as his great work with Renee Montoya in Gotham Central shows--Stetko would indeed be a kindred spirit to Montoya.) There is no lost irony in the fact that in a land where there are almost only men, it appears that the only two women are interested in each other.
It is no surprise that, in 1999, Whiteout was nominated for the "Best Writer", "Best Penciller/Inker or Penciller/Inker Team" and "Best Limited Series" Eisner Awards. I should also mention that the book's sequel Whiteout: Melt was nominated for, and won, an Eisner award in 2000 for "Best Limited Series."
The movie follows out the basic plot of the book. But, there are also some major changes. First, and foremost, there are a lot more women in the movie. Antarctica looks more like a college town than a desolate base. This changes the fundamental character of the setting. In fact, Antarctica is portrayed as a beautiful place rather than a desolate wasteland. Perhaps, because of the additional women on screen, the character of Lily Sharpe is replaced by Robert Pryce, a U.N. Special Agent Robert Pryce played by Gabriel Macht, which gets rid of any lesbian storyline real or implied.
A second, and more troubling, difference is that Stenko's backstory and motivation has been changed. It is my belief that when adapting books (especially comics) to movies, screenwriter and directors can take liberties with the original work so long as they retain the essence of the original source material (a good example of this would be Hellboy, Jurassic Park and I, Robot). I don't want to spoil the book or the movie by revealing her backstory, but, suffice to say, she goes from a person who does an intentionally does a bad thing for a justifiable reason to the clichéd heroine who does the right thing and is left with no choice.
The best way to describe this difference without spoiling the movie is to point to another movie adaptation: John Grisham's, The Firm. In the book, the main character is kind of a jerk. He is photographed by the Firm having an affair with an exotic woman on Cayman beach. The Firm then attempts to blackmail the protagonists for the entire book. He never tells his wife about the incident. In fact, at the end of the book, the wife asks, her cheating husband if he ever had sex on the beach and the main character replies, with a wink to the camera, "Not with you, honey." Then, the film comes along starring nice-guy Tom Cruise. The blackmail scene is there. But, then Tom sits down with his wife and says, "I have to confess, I cheated on you." The character is fundamentally changed. And the change to agent Stenko is that kind of a change.
Otherwise, the book is faithful to the movie. I personally think Kate Beckinsdale is a little too attractive to be Stenko, but she gets the character's toughness down to an art form. I was also surprised that they left one of the more graphic scenes. Finally, the movie has a couple of action sequences that probably wouldn't have worked as well in the comic (as well as a great soundtrack by John Frizzel).
At the end of the day, the book is great and the movie is not bad. Unfortunately, the movie is not great, either-but, it could have been much worse. It certainly was not unwatchable. But, hands down the book was much better and that should be read. At the end of the day, both the book and the movie are a murder mystery with a gimmick in the form of the Antarctica backdrop. Fortunately, it is a gimmick that works very well in both mediums. You should check out both. (Maybe wait for the movie on DVD).
Look at that, I got through the whole review without mentioned the seven minute shower scene.