On my way to a screening of Werner Herzog’s Encounters At The End of the World (part of the 2008 Savannah Ocean Film Festival), I was accosted by sea creatures. My friends and I were walking our way down Savannah’s main drag to the beautiful Trustees Theater, and there they were…
I tried to get the shrimp’s number (or was she krill?) but my girlfriend’s death-stare convinced me that wasn’t in my best interest. Onward into the theater, we were greeted by a 6 piece band, rocking out some traditional sea-shanties, which ranged from very folky Irish music to the Gilligan’s island theme. It was a unique way to start things off and I’m a fan of any live-banjo concert opportunities (sorry for the blurry pic, best I could get). After they wrapped up the evening started with some shorts that didn’t really impress me too much.
Eventually though, Encounters started, and what a treat it was.
Werner Herzog’s documentary is essentially made up of footage and interviews that Herzog (mostly) filmed himself as he visited the McMurdo research station in Antarctica. For all practical points and purposes, it’s Herzog carrying a camera around pointing it at things and people. Herzog’s slow, sometimes disjointed delivery of english doesn’t quite tug the heartstrings like Morgan Freeman’s, but as Herzog says, he’s not there to make another fucking penguin movie. The documentary drips with his personality, which helps a sometimes dry subject remain actively entertaining.
There are a lot of interesting things going on in the base that Herzog is touring, where research is being done on everything from Penguins to string-theory. It’s obvious the residents are restless and a bit stir-crazy as many ramble on and on with the camera in front of them. Fortunately, Herzog is not afraid to lower their audio, sarcastically narrate over them, deliver the interesting points of their story, and then move on. The doc moves fairly rapidly, especially towards the beginning as we get through the set-up.
As he arrives at McMurdo, Herzog remarks how similar it looks to any other industrial complex and gets impatient to trek out into the antarctic wilderness, even begging for shitty weather. After a pretty humorous training exercise, he gets his wish and we are treated to everything this beautiful land has to offer.
The rest of the doc focuses on the wilderness, and the eccentricities of those studying it. Glimpses of the beautiful images and examples of life above and below the ice are mixed with the unique tales of the researchers. Several of them remark that it seems all of today’s true adventurers have shaken and fallen down to the bottom of the world, and it seems true. You meet people that were involved in tribal wars in Africa, trekked across all of South America, and traveled hundreds of miles in a cement tube on the back of a flatbed. You get the impression that it takes interesting and kinda crazy people to come and spend months researching the interesting and kinda crazy life and environment at the south pole.
Herzog does make sure to keep the environment the real star of the show and goddamn if Antarctica doesn’t deliver. Everything from the most delicately complex jellyfish, to the air bubbles of the divers trapped under the ice looks like a natural work of art and I found myself in awe more than once. I understand this documentary will be available on Blu-Ray in November, and any High-Def owner owes it to him or herself to grab this one. It’s definitely right up there with Planet Earth in regards to beautiful scenes of nature.
Herzog covers a lot of ground in this doc. He visits the top of an active volcano, visits a penguin habitat (begrudgingly, and then he asks if any of the penguins are gay), thoroughly explores the McMurdo base, and gets absolutely amazing footage of the oceans under the ice.
If you have any propensity for watching the Discovery Channel, Planet Earth, or doc’s of a similar ilk, this should go high on your list. Herzog’s charm and humor really help bring an identity to what would otherwise be just another documentary about the South Pole.
Five out of Five Herzog’s.
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BONUS: Renn’s One-Word Movie Review
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September 30th, 2008 : : The Man With A Movie Camera – Hyper-Lumiere
Past One-Word Movie Reviews
September 17th, 2008 : : Happiness – Squalid
August 25th, 2008 : : Starship Troopers – Grandiloquent!
August 18th, 2008 : : Inglorious Bastards – Carpenter-esque
August 10th, 2008 : : Mondo Cane – Condescending
August 8th, 2008 : : Naked Lunch - Neither
July 29th, 2008 : : The Hitcher  – Rutger!
July 8th, 2008 : : Lou Ferrigno’s Hercules – Spacey
July 1st, 2008 : : WALL-E – Tender
June 27th, 2008 : : Addio Zio Tom (Goodbye Uncle Tom) - Evil
June 22nd, 2008 : : You Don’t Mess With The Zohan – Jocular
June 17th, 2008 : : The Happening – Embarrassing
June 14th, 2008 : : Kung-Fu Panda – Thin
June 12th, 2008 : : Run Lola Run – Reckless
June 9th, 2008 : : Day Watch – Upgrade
June 8th, 2008 : : The Amateurs – Endearing