Encounters at the End of the World (U)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner22/04/2009

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 99 mins

Engaging, beautifully shot and genuinely fascinating documentary that will stay with you for weeks afterwards.

What's it all about?
Directed by Werner Herzog, Encounters at the End of the World was inspired by some breathtaking under-the-ice footage shot by a photographer friend that Herzog used in The Wild Blue Yonder. For his new film, the Grizzly Man director and his cameraman travel to McMurdo Station in Antarctica, where Herzog interviews a series of scientists and people who, for whatever reason, have chosen to live and work in Antarctica.

Herzog's subjects are a richly varied and endlessly fascinating lot, from Stefan Pashov (credited as forklift driver and philosopher), to a not very chatty penguin expert, an eccentric, tweed-wearing English volcanologist, a pipe-fitter who believes he's descended from Aztec Kings, a banker turned Antarctic bus driver and an adventurer with a sideline in a novelty act that involves her being zipped into a carry-all bag.

The Good
Herzog himself never appears on camera, but his voiceover (delivered in his wonderful, unique style) is ever-present, commenting on the people he meets, the things he's seeing or just what he was thinking at that moment. As such, there's a lot of humour in the film, such as when Herzog hopes that viewers haven't come to the film expecting to see fluffy penguins (a welcome dig at March of the Penguins).

The Great
That said, there is a sequence involving a fluffy penguin, but it's among the most heartbreaking things you'll see all year, as it's lost, miles away from the camera and heading doggedly in the wrong direction. Other highlights include: scientists all sitting around watching 1950s science fiction movies (the appropriately Arctic-set The Thing); seals making sophisticated underwater singing noises that a scientist accurately compares to Pink Floyd; and a hilarious orientation white-out exercise, in which visitors wear buckets on their heads to simulate being lost in the snow.

Worth seeing?
Encounters at the End of the World is a hugely entertaining, genuinely fascinating documentary with stunning photography and a host of memorable, real life characters. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 18/01/2019 17:51

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