Encounters at the End of the World

Movies, Documentary
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Encounters at the End of the World

People watch Discovery Channel documentaries to satisfy an armchair-tourist curiosity about, say, the mating habits of penguins. They seek out Werner Herzog’s nonfiction nature films because he’ll (a) go beyond simply recording wild animals and (b) say something pretentious in a stern Teutonic accent that would give the Saxon hordes pause. His latest, financed by the cable network, doesn’t disappoint on either count. Despite the fact that he’s conducting a whirlwind tour of Antarctica, Herzog informs viewers that he won’t be chasing antarctic fowl; the director has other things on his mind, like why chimps don’t enlist inferior species as slaves (“They could straddle goats and ride off into the sunset”). When our host gets around to those lovable birds, his question is typically Herzogian: “Is there such a thing as insanity among penguins?!?”

You could snicker endlessly over the film’s ripe quotes, but then you’d risk missing the poignancy—and point—of the doc altogether. No stranger to extreme climates or personalities, Herzog zeroes in on Antarctica’s ability to attract scientific kooks, social misfits and philosophers. His portrait of the polar mind-set makes for fascinating anthropology despite the film’s flaws; Herzog’s take on the exterior landscapes may lack focus, but the keen attention he pays to interior geographies is perfect compensation.

By: David Fear


Release details

Rated: G
Release date: Friday June 13 2008
Duration: 99 mins

Cast and crew

Director: Werner Herzog
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