Encounters at the End of the World (ThinkFilm/Discovery Films/Image Entertainment, G)

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film_encounters_sm.jpgImagine something like Errol Morris' Vernon, Florida, but much in a much colder climate, and you're along the right lines.







Werner Herzog makes clear toward the beginning of his new documentary about life in Antarctica that he does not intend for it to be like all of those other penguin movies that have gotten so popular lately. One has to think that its distributors are hoping it will be at least kind of like that, though, seeing as how the penguin movies have by and large been very popular, and also because they are releasing Encounters as counter-programming to the summer heat, much as March of the Penguins an Happy Feet were released in years past.

Herzog's right, at least, in that it isn't just some penguin movie, but no one that knows him would expect anything less. Encounters focuses more on the people who live in Antarctica and what their lives are like than the wildlife of Antarctica—imagine something like Errol Morris' Vernon, Florida, but much in a much colder climate, and you're along the right lines. (Let's not forget that Morris and Herzog are longtime friends.)

The film starts off relatively unfocused, which isn't as much a problem here as it would be for other films, because it is sort of nice to be lulled by the images of the Antarctic landscape and not have to worry yourself with paying attention to stuff like, you know, plot. But pretty soon the film starts getting into monster igloos and learning survival skills, seal calls that sound kind of like Pink Floyd, and it gets a lot more interesting and stays that way.

If there's a more popular cultural touchpoint to compare Encounters to other than the penguin movies it is Planet Earth, but even that is misleading. The things that interest Herzog are not really the things that interest the general populace -- he's always after extremity, insanity, and endurance, all of which are represented here. Granted, Herzog's last documentary was the much more substantial Grizzly Man, which took place almost entirely in Alaska, so extremely cold terrain isn't even that foreign to old Werner anymore. It won't be too long before Herzog has documented all of the extreme locales of the world...or maybe he already has; this is titled Encounters at the End of the World, after all. Where else has he to go? | Pete Timmermann

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