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Simon Read [Film Festival 06.29.08] movie review scifi documentary

Year: 2007
Release date: Unknown
Director: Werner Herzog
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: projectcyclops
Rating: 8 out of 10

Werner Herzog's latest documentary takes us to the frozen south of Antarctica, where for five months the sun shines constantly and the scientists, researchers and zoologists work away. Herzog's opening monologue, delivered in his dry-as-a-bone tone, declares that this "isn't just another documentary about penguins", but rather a study of the people that live and work there, what brought them and what drives them. Herzog states that he wanted to understand more about animals, humans and what connects them. "Why doesn't an ape simply straddle a goat?" he muses, "Why do ants milk grubs for sugar like slaves?"

Arriving by military jet at McMurdo, an American research base complete with a bowling alley, aerobic studio, ATM machine and an "absurd" yoga center, Herzog gets to work interviewing the various humans that populate it. He meets self confessed 'perpetual dreamers' who feel a bond with the land and the "Call of the iceberg". He meets travelers and former bankers who find freedom in their new life away from the corporate west, surrounded by the haunting landscape. He attends a training exercise in which a collection of white plastic buckets are used to simulate a blizzard with quite hilarious results. All the time he keeps a curious and straight tone, not wishing to judge anybody but rather let their words explain themselves.

Much of the film is indeed dedicated to the animal and sea life that resides in Antarctica too. We're treated to some astonishing underwater footage shot by a friend of the director that looks like an alien planet in some distant solar system, with tentacled monsters, floating jelly-fish and beautiful 'landscapes', all with the ice acting as a sky. Herzog does get round to interviewing the resident penguin expert, but not with the usual questions. Instead he asks if the rumors he's read about gay penguins are true and if it's possible for a penguin to go insane in the icy wastes, both it turns out are in part true. He follows two scientists on the verge of a small breakthrough in research and films them rocking out with guitars on the roof of their cabin to celebrate, then a group of divers the leader of which is on his last dive and encourages his team to watch old sci-fi b-movies like 'THEM' to better understand the marine life. "Imagine if you were shrunk to miniature and had to fight these creatures?" he wonders, "It would be like hell."

Encounters at the End of the World is peppered with these wonderful eccentrics and who better to film them than the brilliant Werner Herzog, a master film maker (Rescue Dawn not-with-standing) who has made not only a beautifully shot snippet of life in Antarctica, but also a comment on humanities need to further explore our world. He laments however, that once the continent was fully 'conquered' the opportunity for genuinely useful research became limited to simply finding something worthy of a grant or media interest. Although it is by no means the focus or intent of his film, there are grim reminders by the scientists that much of the evidence of global warming is clearly on display here too. A very well assembled and entertaining film, Encounters is a worthy watch.

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cyberhal (12 years ago) Reply

thanks for the review. I wanted to go see this at the LA festival, but couldn't make it. Werner seems to be on a nature trip these days, this one, the Bear thing, the Loch Ness monster spoof. guy's a genius in my book.


agentorange (12 years ago) Reply

Definitely. Rescue Dawn too really blew me away.


cyberhal (12 years ago) Reply

i like the early crazier stuff too like Fitzcaraldo, or really anything with Klaus Kinsky;

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