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Encounters At the End of The World (2008) - Movie Review

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Acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog became fascinated by Antarctica upon seeing underwater footage shot by a scientist stationed at McMurdo, the U.S. research station established according to Antarctic Treaty rules. Herzog got a National Science Foundation grant to visit McMurdo for several weeks to document life among the dedicated scientists who're conducting research at 'the end of the world.' While seeking answers to his own set of curious questions, Herzog creates a fascinating travelogue that takes us to locations few humans have visited and introduces us to the wondrous place known as the Big Ice.



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Pros

  • An amazing adventure to America's remote Antarctica research station McMurdo
  • Extraordinary underwater sequences shot beneath solid ice that's covering the Ross Sea.
  • Herzog captures the quirky, fascinating personalities of scientists living at end of the world.
  • Herzog takes a real look at penguins, and they're not cute.
  • Herzog communicates the awe he feels about Antarctica, and that's very moving.

Cons

  • There's no mention of the Antarctic Treaty, a sigificant success story in international cooperation.
  • Focues only on US presence in Antarctica, without acknowledging other national presences.

Description

  • A penguin quits the flock that's heading for the sea, wanders solo towards the mountains and sure death. Herzog wonders why.
  • A scientist describes his elation when standing upon an iceberg larger in size than 'the nation that built the Titanic.'
  • In requisite survival school, everyone puts opaque buckets over their heads to simulate a disorienting blizzard white out.
  • McMurdo personnel reveal their unusual life stories, indicating how and why they've arrived 'at the end of the world.'
  • Archival footage of the Shackleton expedition shows how advanced technologies have made exploration easier and safer.
  • McMurdo staffers entertain each other with unusual talent shows to circumvent cabin fever.
  • A scientist balances on the brim of Mt. Erebus, one of Earth's most active and unpredicatable volcanoes.

Guide Review - Encounters At the End of The World (2008) - Movie Review

Herzog, who narrates this film himself, opens Encounters--and establishes its tone--by stating he's not going to shoot flocks of feathery penguins. Instead, he says, he's interested in exploring other enigmas: why men wear masks and chase each other (a question posed over archival Lone Ranger footage) and why chimpanzees don't ride goats, for example.

First person voice over and this particular set of questions inform you, from the start, that you're in for Herzog's take on Antarctica, a point of view evident even during verite interviews with research scientists and McMurdo staffers, and in narration of extraordinary footage of scientists at work and play at 'the end of the world.'

Antarctica is remote, fascinating, dangerous and absolutely compelling. It is, in fact, the world's bottom, not it's end, and it's one of two earthly locales (the North Pole is the other) where all longitudinal lines intersect and, so, at least in theory, it's a place where time stands still. That seems true by appearance as well: during austral summer, when Herzog visited, the sun shines 24/7.

Herzog uses that nonstop light to illuminate the lives of station personnel as they do their daily duties. By following their routines, Herzog shows how humans are influenced by visiting and working in a miraculous place worthy of the elevated level of respect one might identify as worship.

It's evident that all visitors (no body lives in Antarctica) find their experiences enlightening. Herzog's film, quirky questions and all, captures and transmits their awe.

It doesn't, however, bring awareness to the Antarctic Treaty--the existence of which is itself something of a miracle--that prevents vying nations from claiming and exploiting the Big Ice for military and commercial purposes. But perhaps Herzog's saving Antarctica's precarious political intrigue--and fate--for another film.

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