Sunday, 20 February 2011

Encounters at the End of the World

This is documentary film made in 2007 by Werner Herzog all about the people and places in Antarctica.

Instead of being a film all about penguins (although, there are some scenes -- you can't go to Antarctica and ignore the penguins...) it mainly centres around the people living and working in this frozen wasteland.

Anything that's narrated by Herzog, I'm going to enjoy. There's lots of narrative and interviews in this film and just like other Herzogian characters, they're all unique. It's a breath of fresh air that'll make your lungs ache from the cold, but it's just what I needed.

We meet station maintenance workers -- just general people... and for some reason they all seem to have these eccentric yet traumatic tales to tell about their lives and how they escaped near death on safaris gone AWOL and dodged civil wars but we never really find out what they're doing on the continent. 

We also meet scientists: iceberg fanatics, seal lovers, sci-fi obsessed biologists, and there's even some local philosopher driving a digger. It's not all cozy, because you'll find yourself being immersed under the frozen wasteland to swim in the alien seas below it, discovering a mysterious, beautiful world. Is it sounding like something the BBC've done? Well it's far too sporadic for that. Yet again I'm drawn to the fascinating music he manages to incorporate into such scenes, which definitely beats some BBC narrator droning on about the lifeforms in there and how they live. I'll let Herzog lead the voyage into the unknown abyss rather than have it fed to me.

We'll also come across volcanoes and as I mentioned: obligatory penguin scenes. Don't be fooled by that --  again, you'll come to appreciate the unique approach to all of this. I think the film should be hailed for the study and quality of the humanity it depicts -- right down the history of Ernest Shackleton and the first South Pole expedition crew. Herzog manages to produce a reflective insight into the society of people living on the frozen continent twice the size of Australia. I thought this was a documentary?

(The DVD is also stacked full of extra material. So much there's an hour plus an extra disc dedicated to it all.)

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