Friday, April 3, 2009

Encounters at the End of the World (2007)

Directed by Werner Herzog. Here the master documentarian explores the Antarctic, portraying the continent as a living being, a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Herzog goes to McMurdo Station to learn about iceberg geology, visits with researchers of animals such as seals and penguins, but also biologists studying single cell entities and physicists using balloons to collect invisible sub-molecular particles. He walks the edge of a volcano and explores the preserved living quarters of Ernest Shackleton, who explored the South Pole in 1909. It's all fascinating, beautifully shot and moves right along.

Still, I saw this film and "Little Dieter Wants to Fly" pretty much back-to-back, and as good as this is, compared to that it feels a bit meandering and created more from a sense of professionalism than art, or at least pure inspiration. "Little Dieter" is a heart-wrenching story of the human experience. To see and hear it is to resolve not to waste one's own life.

On the other hand, "Encounters at the End of the World" is not as inspirational as "Little Dieter," though to be fair it never claims to be that inspired. At the very beginning of the film, Herzog explains that he was compelled to make it when shown film footage shot underwater in the Antarctic shot by his friend, musician Henry Kaiser. That footage, as well as discussions with Kaiser regarding his research, made Herzog think a film showing that the Antarctic is not simply a dead zone of ice and snow was a good idea. It was. Simple as that.

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