Herzog and cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger go to Antarctica to meet people who live and work there, and to capture footage of the continent's unique locations. Herzog's voiceover narration explains that his film will not be a typical Antarctica film about "fluffy penguins," but will explore the dreams of the people and the landscape.
Now, for the first time, an outsider has been admitted. In his first documentary since GRIZZLY MAN, Werner Herzog, accompanied only by his cameraman, traveled to Antarctica, with rare access to the raw beauty and raw humanity of the ultimate Down Under.
ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD, Herzog’s latest meditation on nature, explores this land of Fire, Ice and corrosive Solitude.
Encounters at the End of the World
By Roger Ebert
Herzog has come to live for a while at the McMurdo Research Station, the largest habitation on Antarctica. He was attracted by underwater films taken by his friend Henry Kaiser, which show scientists exploring the ocean floor.
Their Own Separate Universe / Encounters at the End of the World
By Ranylt Richildis
The lessons many of the personalities in Encounters at the End of the World share with viewers is a popular one: ecosystems are fragile and the human race is doomed. But don’t be fooled. Herzog may dignify his latest doc with climate-change epaulettes, but his real interest is in the people who live at McMurdo and other research stations on the vast ice.
How Many Goodly Creatures Are There on Mr. Herzog’s Planet
Encounters at the End of the World covers the same ground as a National Geographic-style documentary. But Herzog's point of view means that you're seeing things that usually don't make it into these documentaries. Encounters isn't better or worse than the standard documentary, just different.
A lot of the entertainment value comes from Herzog's quirky voiceover and accent. You can feel his acerbic wit and attitude even when he's making "straight" comments. If someone else were narrating the film, it wouldn't be as good.
Herzog does seem to be in love with the underwater footage. Even though it's gorgeous, he shows so much of it in reverential slow motion that you want to speed it up. And the religious music backing these scenes is so loud and heavy-handed that I had to reduce the volume three-quarters.
One gets the sense that Herzog saw the underwater footage first, then figured out how to build an Antarctica movie around it. "We'll find people and places to contrast with this underwater beauty, make a statement about man vs. nature, and voilá. The NSF will finance my film."
You can see this in the trailer below. The underwater scenes make up maybe 20% of the movie but they're almost 50% of the trailer. It's clear they're the "tail that wags the dog."
The quality of the interviews is mixed, to say the least. Sometimes Herzog mutes the sound and summarizes what a person is saying, which suggests the person's words aren't that notable. This is an effective technique--one more documentary makers should use. <g>
All in all, I'd say Encounters at the End of the World is about as good as any good nature documentary. Rob's rating: 8.0 of 10.
For more on the subject, see Natives in Encounters at the End of the World and Native Documentaries and News.