Combustible Celluloid
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With: David Ainley, Samuel S. Bowser, Regina Eisert, Kevin Emery, Ashrita Furman, William Jirsa, Karen Joyce, Douglas MacAyeal, William McIntosh, Olav T. Oftedal, Clive Oppenheimer, David R. Pacheco Jr., Stefan Pashov, Jan Pawlowski, Scott Rowland, Libor Zicha
Written by: Werner Herzog
Directed by: Werner Herzog
MPAA Rating: G
Running Time: 99
Date: 09/01/2007

Encounters at the End of the World (2008)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Pole Positions

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Werner Herzog's striking, unique new documentary started a couple of years ago when Herzog incorporated some astonishing, underwater footage into his The Wild Blue Yonder (2005). A photographer friend dove under the Antarctic ice to shoot images of the unbelievable creatures, shapes and displays of light that could only be seen there, and Herzog used the footage in his film to represent life on another planet (!). But the pictures apparently continued to fascinate him, and so he journeyed to the earth's southernmost point to learn more. Herzog arrives at Antarctica's McMurdo Station, the headquarters of the National Science Foundation, where some 1100 people live on top of the massive groaning ice chunks. He interviews the people who live there, described as "full time travelers and part time workers." But he is as disappointed as he is enchanted, and he allows these conflicting emotions to comfortably mix throughout the film. The best thing about Herzog's films (Aguirre, The Wrath of God, Grizzly Man, Rescue Dawn, etc.) is that he follows his instincts and lets his curiosity lead him to the next sequence. He dutifully interviews several scientists to get details about things like shifting ice, neutrinos and volcanoes. Other times, he becomes enthralled by a minor character, such as a plumber (David R. Pacheco Jr.) who shows proof of his royal Aztec/Inca lineage with his odd-shaped fingers (his first and fourth fingers and second and third fingers are exactly the same length). Encounters at the End of the World contains some facts about Antarctica and most viewers will walk away smarter than they were before, but it's a kind of rambling, exploratory mess, alternately curious and fastidious. The film is really more about Herzog than Antarctica. If you see a lot of documentaries and that tired, old PBS format with the talking heads, narrator and clips has started to wear thin, Herzog's open, honest film is as refreshing as an icy breeze.

DVD Details: Image Entertainment's 2008 DVD is a spectacular 2-disc set, complete with a great commentary track (including Herzog, producer Henry Kaiser and cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger), a trailer, and lots of extra footage, both underwater and above ground. The second disc includes an hour-long interview between Herzog and director Jonathan Demme.

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