Thursday, July 31, 2008

Encounters at the End of the World


McMurdo Station, the Antarctic community that's home to the National Science Foundation forms the basis of this Werner Herzog documentary. A community of over 1000 they might as well live on the moon for all the isolation that surrounds them. As always, Herzog's droll yet existential delivery in voice-over narration adds its own mystical element to a film ripe with transcendent images.
"I haven't come here to make a film about penguins," remarks Herzog at least twice in the first ten minutes. And yet at about the halfway point the camera comes to rest on a group of the tuxedo clad webbed birds. It seems the penguins either go one way, to the feeding ground near a shoreline, or the other way to their habitat. One lone penguin skates to the ice of a different drum and waddles towards an mountainous shelf 70 kilometers away. It's a suicide mission of animal intent, no creature could survive. "Why?," Herzog emphatically asks. A scientist suggests that even if they retrieve the little guy, as soon as they return him to his lair he'll immediately turn around and march anew.
Other fantastical sights include various scientists explaining their research missions; the vocalizations of undersea creatures that literally sound like a combination of that song "Frankenstein" by the Edgar Winter Group and the more experimental phase of Pink Floyd, no kidding; and a training session for emergency situations in whiteout conditions where a group of people put buckets over their head and tether off and then try to find their way around camp. The underwater photographer will amaze you even more as we view creatures lost to time like weird starfish that look similar to monsters from an '80s John Carpenter movie. Not only are the divers well trained, each venture has its own built-in danger factor in lieu of the fact the scuba divers are constantly under thick ice.
All of the goings on are shadowed by shades of the naturally bizarre and polished by Herzog's unique perspective. Just as he did in Grizzly Man and other docus, Herzog tries to find the meaning in a life extraordinaire.


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