Saturday, July 12, 2008

Werner Herzog's "Encounters at the End of the World"


Werner Herzog, recently known for “Grizzly Man” and “Rescue Dawn” has produced a stunning travel documentary about Antarctica, “Encounters at the End of the World,” from the Discovery Channel with theatrical release by ThinkFilm. The website for the film is this.

I say travel, because seeing this kind of film with first class projection (I saw it at Landmark E Street in Washington in the largest auditorium) provides an $8 substitute for a personal voyage that now is economically out of reach for most people. I could wish that we could see it in Imax 3-D, or at least 2.35 : 1 rather than the standard 1.85 : 1 aspect ratio which is used. The music is remarkable. There is original, atonal “computer” music by Henry Kaiser and David Lindley, and some a cappella contemporary Russian choral music. But the most remarkable music of all comes from seals hooting and calling while underwater (a think ice shelf that forms a ceiling for many shots), that actually comes across as a musical composition of sorts! Try performing it at the Dumbarton concerts.

The movie starts out at MacMurdo, which is a kind of space colony on the coast, with a bit of a sci-fi look. (It reminded me of John Carpenter’s “Ghosts of Mars”). The scientists manage to craft cluttered efficiency apartment homes in their barracks. Life is intimate, but maybe not as much so as one expects. They have to be trained for all kinds of contingencies.

The movie then makes impromptu voyages to other places, including the South Pole, and most of all, the volcano Mt. Erebus (12451 feet) on Ross Island. This volcano provides one of the three places on earth that looks directly into a magma lake. (The other two places are in Ethiopia and the Congo.) The scientists look into Hades, which is constant throwing up lava and possibly splattering them. One of the scientists is the cordial Clive Oppenheimer from Cambridge in Britain.

At one point, they scientists encounter the male penguins protecting their progeny (a lookback to “March of the Penguins”) and then there is one male penguin who strays and will march to his death in the inland.

There is little mention of global warming or the loss of ice shelf (or the possible split up of the shelf). One scientist describes the undersea life, and notes that animals got bigger and went on land to get away from the violent existence of the seabed.

The film has a dedication to Roger Ebert.

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