July 10, 2008

`Encounters at the End of the World’

Have camera, will travel. In pursuit of a compelling story, Werner Herzog will go anywhere. He's pitched his tripod in the Alaskan wilderness ("Grizzly Man"), on the lip of an active Caribbean volcano ("La Soufriere") and only-God-and-Klaus-Kinski-know-where up the Amazon River ("Aguirre, the Wrath of God").

A contrarian spiritual journey as provocative as it is hypnotic, Herzog's "Encounters at the End of the World" literally treks to planet's end. The irascible filmmaker travels to the geographic end-of-world in McMurdo, Antarctica, and its environs to profile a handful of vagabonds and visionaries, who, like him, contemplate the mortal end of the world by pondering its beginnings.

Through Herzog's eyes it is a desolate, strangely beautiful frozen Edenish hell where the planet, having shaken out its pockets, lets the loners, fanatics and cosmologist-crackpots fall to bottom.

"No penguins," promises/threatens the German-born filmmaker who narrates the movie in carefully-measured Schwarzeneggerian cadences that manage to be simultaneously serious and droll.

Still, Herzog (whose superior "Grizzly Man" wasn't even nominated for best documentary the year that "March of the Penguins" won) can't help himself when he meets a zoologist. "Is there such a thing as insanity among penguins?" he demands, training his camera on a stubborn bird that peels itself from its community and wanders towards oblivion.

This is the type of personality to which Herzog is near-fatally attracted, the type that seeks self-knowledge in risk-taking, potentially self-destructive, behavior.

The type that dives under the polar ice cap to capture the sapphire-and-pearl shimmer of ice and sea. The type that listens to the music of keening seals. The type that studies the violent organisms lurking beneath the glistening ice.

These are the types that populate "Encounters at the End of the World," and they are endlessly fascinating.



3 { stars

Directed by Warner Herzog. With Herzog. Distributed by THINKFilm.

Running time: 1 hour, 39 mins.

Parent's guide: G


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