Sunday, March 01, 2009

Encounters at the End of the World

Werner Herzog must surely rank as one of the most ruggedly individualistic filmmakers working today, with a kind of adventurous, "pioneer" spirit that would have made John Ford or Raoul Walsh proud.

In the past, he has explored the most obscure regions of the world in films like Aguirre the Wrath of God, and more recently in Gizzly Man, in which he ventured in to the documentary format to examine the eventual breakdown and destruction of a man at the hands of an environment he did not fully understand.

Encounters at the End of the World takes the viewer to the unexplored vastness of Antarctica. Herzog looks at the individuals who choose to come there to explore. Many of them are Ph.D.s, musicians, philosophers and other unlikely types with a passion for adventure, exploration and knowledge. Herzog shows us the practical side of their experiences (training for white-outs by placing buckets over their heads, and quickly losing all sense of direction), drilling holes in the ice for diving (and explaining that a diver must be able to find his way back to the exit or risk being trapped under hundreds of miles of ice).

He makes the point that Antarctica is largely the final frontier among the continents. Somehow it seems very appropriate that Herzog would make this film. In the process of revealing the vastness and even danger of the environment, he also paints a very revealing picture of the individuals who choose to make such exploration possible in the first place.

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