I have always been fascinated by Antarctica, and I’ve read many books and watched many movies about that frozen continent. However, for several years, I’ve had on my “bucket list” a movie that’s arguably one of the best ever filmed about Antarctica, “Encounters at the End of the World.” It irked me that I’d never seen this film, but those feelings went away on Tuesday of last week when I finally took the time to watch it from start to finish.
If memory serves me correctly, the first time that I ever heard of “Encounters at the End of the World” was in September 2010 when Outside magazine included it in a “best of” list called the “Outside Documentary Canon,” a list of the 25 best adventure, investigative and nature documentary movies ever made. The list was compiled by the magazine’s editors and guest editor David Holbrooke, who is the director of the Mountainfilm festival in Telluride, Colo. I want to say that I placed “Encounters at the End of the World” on my bucket list immediately after I read about it in Outside.
For those of you who haven’t seen it, “Encounters at the End of the World” was released on Sept. 1, 2007 and was written, directed and narrated by acclaimed German director Werner Herzog. Much of the movie is about the workers at the McMurdo U.S. research station in Antarctica, and it provides a fascinating look at what led them to the bottom of the world. Of course, no movie about Antarctica would be complete without portions regarding the continent’s early explorers and penguins.
The footage in the movie was also breathtaking and informative. I had a preconceived idea of what McMurdo should look at in mind before I watched in the movie, based, I think, mostly on what’s shown in 1982’s “The Thing,” another of my favorite movies set in Antarctica. However, “Encounters” shows a very different McMurdo that’s mostly dirty and brown rather than stark white and frozen.
I also enjoyed hearing the back stories of the people Herzog interviewed in the film. It really showed that there are many roads that lead to work in Antarctica. Each person interviewed seemed to display their own unique, quirky spirit of adventure that was inspiring and sometimes funny.
A good portion of the movie also shows the filmmakers exploring various ice caves. The footage is eerily beautiful, and also puts off the idea that what they are doing is extremely dangerous. My feeling is that this portion of the movie has a lot do with why this movie is so highly regarded.
This movie is just 99 minutes long, so it’s a relatively quick watch. I rented the DVD through NetFlix and watched it all in one sitting late at night on Tuesday of last week. My daughter even watched portions of it and seemed to enjoy all of the penguin footage.
In the end, how many of you have watched “Encounters at the End of the World” What did you think about it? What similar movies would you recommend watching? Let us know in the comments section below.