Encounters at the End of the WorldWith 56 directorial credits to his name, Werner Herzog’s nearly five decades of filmmaking have made him almost as ubiquitous a director as the pervasive Woody Allen. And while Encounters At the End of the World isn’t his most memorable piece of work (picture a typical Discovery Channel special on Antarctica with Herzog’s distinctive narrative and you’re on the right track), it’s still an impressive documentary – both in scope and in imagery. Instead of focusing on the freezing landscapes and the cuddly penguins (don’t worry, there are still some magnificent shots of both), Herzog has chosen to turn his camera on an even more interesting subject: the people who choose to live in Antarctica.

The result is roughly 100 minutes of character study that is undeniably fascinating but also unfortunately fragmented. Herzog ‘s main theme is that Antarctica is inhabited by dreamers and for the most part the people he interviews reflect this theme. There are several scientists and though each of their areas of interest – volcanoes, neutrinos, penguins, seals, new species under the ice – could be the subject of their own 30-minute special they each only get about five. The rest of the subjects range across the board, from a linguist with a greenhouse to a banker who drives trucks to an Antarctic safety instructor. Each subject is interesting and with so many interviews being conducted inside you begin to forget that they all live on a frozen continent at the bottom of the world.

Herzog begins to fragment his film towards the end when he opines that man should be content to leave a few unmarked places on the world map (he narrates over a shot of the South Pole with flags from various countries planted all around it). It’s at this point that it becomes a bit confusing as to whether Herzog is impressed that the subjects of his interviews have chosen to live in Antarctica or disappointed in them for invading a space that he believes should remain uninhabited.

There are numerous beautiful shots of the landscapes (and extensive additional footage both above and below the ice in the aptly named extras Under the Ice (half an hour) and Over the Ice (ten minutes)), though in typical Herzog style, he is careful to juxtapose this with the muddy roads and construction-site aspects of the main city, shattering the myth that Antarctica is completely barren and beautiful. Encounters At the End of the World is a mixed bag. It doesn’t have the drama and suspense of some of Herzog’s other docs, but it does have some incredible underwater shots that would look at home in an Imax theatre.

Zach’s Rating: B-
Perfect For: Those who can’t get enough of Werner Herzog’s unique vision
Stay Away if: You’re a casual Herzog fan looking for the excitement of Grizzly Man

To purchase Encounters At the End of the World, visit Amazon

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