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At The Edge Of the World - Movie Review - 2008

Antarctic Adventure With A Mission

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


At The Edge Of the World - Movie Review - 2008

At The Edge of The World Poster Art

Endeavor Media
On it's 3rd Antarctic Campaign, the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, an international organization dedicated to preserving Earth's oceans, sent two small, ill-equipped ships to the Ross Sea, an internationally designated whale sanctuary, to prevent the Japanese whaling fleet from killing cetaceans on their huge factory ships.

A David and Goliath Story

Sea Shepherd's Farley Mowat was a slow moving vessel, and the society's second ship, the faster-moving Robert Hunter, didn't have the reinforced hull required to withstand collision with icebergs and possible ramming by the Japanese whaling fleet's larger and superior ships.

The Sea Shepherd ships were run by a total of 48 crew members, most of whom had never before sailed in Antarctic waters. They were volunteers from various nations, and all had signed on to save whales from the Japanese fleet's harpoons.

In chronicling the mission, documentary director Dan Stone shows that the Sea Shepherd Society's strategy of intervention called for the disabling of the Nisshin Maru and other Japanese ships by fouling their propellers or creating holes in their hulls above the water and fuel lines. But the Sea Shepherd's crews' first challenge was to locate the Japanese ships in the vast Ross Sea or beyond, and then to position themselves so that they could take action. Finding the Japanese fleet is a difficult task that takes weeks. The Ross Sea is not only vast, it's treacherous. Ice floes and bergs about, and storms stir up without warning. The crew suffers from sea sickness, and there are at risk of running out of fuel before they run into any Japanese factory ships. We see the crew in training, riding in rubber Zodiacs from which they will toss ropes that will snag in the Japanese ships' propellers. There's a man overboard emergency and other such events that establish just how dangerous Antarctica -- and their mission -- can be.

Presenting The Issue

Whaling continues to be a serious issue. The Japanese whaling fleet is clearly violating international law, but no government is willing to shut them down. The Japanese attitude towards whaling is also made clear in The Cove, which focuses on the annual dolphin slaughter off the coast of Japan (dolphins are whales). In At The Edge of the World, the slaughter takes place in international waters that have specifically been designated a whale sanctuary. But the navies of New Zealand and Australia steer clear of the Japanese fleet.

The documentary shows us how whales, which are harpooned and then allowed to bleed out into the sea, are treated inhumanely. Sea Shepherd is committed to saving as many whales as possible from this fate, one whale at a time. The society was founded by Paul Watson, who now helms the Farley Mowat. Watson was also a founder of Greenpeace, but left that organization because it observes and reports, but does not intervene to prevent whale deaths. We see this in the documentary.

The Sea Shepherd ships have also lost their registry due to pressures placed on the issuing governments. So both the Farley Mowat and Robert Hunter are sailing without flags. In fact, they both fly pirate flag -- because they're technically pirate ships and can, therefore, be boarded and scuttled if they are caught. The crew members can be subject to prosecution. So, you understand that the sense of mission is keen, and the commitment to it complete. Risking death or jail, they will save whales!

Presenting Antarctica

At The Edge of the World is the third Antarctica documentary released within one year. The others, Anne Aghion's Ice People and Werner Herzog's Encounters At The End Of the World were both sponsored and sanctioned by the National Science Foundation and were based at U.S. research stations in Antarctica.

At The Edge of the World has a different perspective. For one thing, unlike the others, it takes place on ships at sea, and it projects the crew's sense of social -- as opposed to scientific -- mission and their spirit of activism. For audiences, that translates into a wild ride, a gripping do or die drama aboard ships vulnerable to any number of life threatening mishaps. The crew's genuine challenges seem more akin to the exciting explorations of the heroic Ernest Shackleton, as revealed in documentaries such as The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition (2000), than to the patient and painstaking work of research station-based scientists, as shown by Aghion, or to tale-teller Herzog's rather superficial observations about seasonal research station workers' daily life.

Antarctica is an enthralling environment. At The Edge of the World really takes you there, and it's a great place to go.

Presenting the Personnel

Sea Shepherd Founder/Farley Mowat Captain Paul Watson is an engaging character, whose down to earth manner, dedication to mission and care of his crew give him heroic stature. Alex Cornelissen, the Dutchman who helms the Robert Hunter, is equally impressive, especially when he sets out to find a zodiac and crew who've gone missing in a sudden storm. Deckhands and galley workers who weigh in as situations arise are all interesting. You'd like to know their backstories.

Japanese crews appear on the Nissan Maru's deck when Sea Shepherd ships and zodiacs approach, and via radio conversations. They're always addressed with courtesy and respect, but they're clearly the enemy.

The last group of characters are the whales --and they are, quite simply, magnificent. They're the reason for voyage and film and, while the film's focus is really on the ships' crews rather than on whales, the footage of spouting and breaching cetaceans is marvelous. You want them to live.

The Bottom Line

At The Edge of the World is a superb advocacy documentary and travelog that presents a compelling cause, fascinating cast of characters, eventful and dramatic story and artful cinematography. It takes you to a place you might not otherwise know and presents it in the genuine fullness of event and experience.

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Film Details:

  • At The Edge of the World - 2008
  • Director: Dan Stone
  • Release Date: July 10, 2009 (limited)
  • Running Time: 90 mins.
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13
  • Location: Antarctica
  • Language: English
  • Production Company: Endeavor Media
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