Written by Caballero Oscuro
No stranger to extreme adventures in the course of his filmmaking, iconic director Werner Herzog traveled to the frozen expanse of Antarctica for his latest documentary. He makes it clear early on that he’s not there to cash in on filming cuddly penguins, and instead devotes more of the film to examining Antarctica’s human inhabitants rather than its natural wonders. Viewers looking for a nature documentary may be puzzled at the significant attention paid to the humans, but what emerges is an insightful look at the motivations and backgrounds of the unique characters choosing to spend their lives at the end of the world.
Herzog is initially dismayed by the industrial blight of McMurdo Station, the U.S. research center and largest Antarctic community. He doesn’t ever seem to really warm to the existence of the station, but his exposure to its quirky residents clearly led him to reevaluate the intentions of his documentary. While he spends time with the scientists in their field work above and below the ice, he’s seemingly more intrigued by what makes them tick and what led them to Antarctica, filming in-depth interviews with a few of them. Although the subjects are all clearly operating on a different wavelength than mainstream society, there aren’t any exceptionally memorable oddballs, just a moderate island of misfit toys.
The nature footage that does make its way into the finished product is suitably scenic and breathtaking, especially the underwater scenes that expose the bizarre wildlife existing in Antarctica’s freezing depths. There’s even a throwaway scene of penguins, proving that Herzog couldn’t completely escape their cuddly call.
The two-disc DVD release features a wealth of bonus footage that includes a short film by another director called “Under The Ice” that first inspired Herzog to try his own hand at Antarctic filmmaking, as well as some breathtaking aerial footage, and a feature on “Seals and Men”. Jonathan Demme pops in to interview Herzog, while Herzog and his production team also offer a commentary track for the main film.
Encounters at the End of the World is now available on DVD and Blu-ray. For more information, visit the film’s website.