The Last Place on Earth (1985– )
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This is a gripping movie and the characters are well-developed. Shot (as I remember) in Norway, the 'polar' scenes are very believable as are the costumes and props.
Anyone who is interested in this genre and period of history really owes it to themselves to read the book from which the movie was made: "The Last Place on Earth", by Roland Huntford. I loaned out my copy and it was never returned, but this is a very large, very well-written, can't-put-it-down book.
There is no spoiler to share: Everyone who knows anything about history knows that Scott lost the 'race', but while some (mainly Scott-supporters) may say that Huntford is biased in his telling of the race to the Pole between Amundson and Scott, the book and the movie draw the same conclusion and I believe the viewer will as well: Scott was a well-intentioned fool and has been glorified as the quintessential British Explorer/Martyr for all these years simply because his recovered diaries spin a better story. Amundson was not good at self-promotion.
I have been telling people how great this movie is for over twenty years. It has never been re-broadcast, so buying the movie is the only way to see it.
For another perspective on a TRUE British hero, people should read the book "Shackleton" by the same author.
The start of the series, gives an insight into the direction the whole production goes. It shows Amundsen staying with Eskimos, while Scott is facing the prospect of a court marshall. There can be little doubt in reality that the British Expedition was no match for the experienced collection of Norwegian Explorers. If it had been a sporting event, it would have been classed as a thrashing. After all Amundsens was halfway back to his base when Scott reached the Pole.
The different ideas of the two men is made clear. Amundsen knows he must be first to the pole. He can't afford to be second. He has told his country and government that he is headed for the north pole. He knows that no chances can be taken in a place as unforgiving as the Antartic. Scott however believes that the pole is his by rights, this is probably due to the mentality of the British at that period of time when they had the largest empire the world had seen. He takes only enough supplies to make it there and back, and when he falls behind schedule he starves to death.
It portrays Scotts rivalry with Shakelton, and why Scott pushed on to the Pole, as he felt he had to do better than Shakelton. For many years Scott was considered the Greater Hero. Nowadays it is reversed with Shakelton's concern for his men, is looked on more favourable, thans Scott's reckless actions to push on to the prize.
For all of Scott's mistakes, the show does not go into the bad luck that Scott suffered at the Hands of the weather. Yes, it does snow in the Antartic all the time, but the temperature in the March that year was well below the average for that time of year. Would Scott had made it back in more favourable conditions, we'll never know, but Amundsen knew it was not a place to take chances.
In summing up, this was a superb production, with good acting, directing and setting. I recommend anyone who enjoyed this to read the book as well. Also to read Scott's diary, as it is a masterpiece. Maybe he was more suited to writing than to exploring.
The viewer should be very skeptical about the Scott defenders because it is evident their homework is shallowly researched and based on a very limited interpretation of Scott's polar problem: that bad luck and bad weather caused his downfall.
I've read Huntford's book 3 times, read the weather article and seen the PBS episode where the young scientist tried to resurrect Scott as a noble, if unfortunate hero. Also, Huntford and his fellow professionals have posted excellent rebuttals regarding these spurious claims about Scott and the weather.
The questions that should put an end to the argument is this: who would get you through safely and who exhibited a breadth of polar knowledge sufficient to AVOID the problems of travel in the brutal Antarctic?
If you said Scott, then you probably thought the Charge of the Light Brigade was a wonderful jaunt through Russian cannon fire just to show how noble and brave you were. Above all else, don't let these half-informed reviewers go without a serious look into the counter-points made to their weak arguments.
Still, the series is a breath-taking look at the human struggle to survive and to seek glory and the dreadful price it takes in lives and in the judgment of history.
Unless you've slept under a rock for 100 years, or never read a history book, you know that Amundsen reached the Pole first, and successfully returned, whereas Scott and 4 of his men perished miserably on the return trip. Why? It's all about project management. This DVD is all about properly managing a complicated project dealing with the wilds of nature. Amundsen has 'it' - Scott doesn't.
The Norwegians are highly-skilled at traveling in frozen wastelands. They are in fine physical condition, they know how to ski and handle dog-teams. Amundsen recruits a small team of specialists. He doesn't get too high or low about anything, nor does he get too close to the team--he remains aloof. He makes meticulous preparations.
The British are operated like a Navy Ship under military command: Scott gives orders and doesn't want them questioned. He has a group of favorites, but takes a colossal team of guys, mostly military, but some civilians, who find Scott pompous, arrogant and misguided. He breaks promises and plays the men against each other, while they hope to be in the final group to make the final trek. He sends the wrong guy to purchase Siberian ponies, to save a few bucks, plus he fails to include a couple of key players, including a properly-trained team to tend to the motor sledges. Since there wasn't a Walmart Auto (or Canadian Tire) in the Antarctic, you might wonder what he was thinking. But his biggest problem is the notion of man-hauling the enormous loads all the way to the Pole. you see: no one walks when they can ride. and the Eskimos always rode dog-teams. Scott had experienced some difficulties with dogs in the past, but that's no excuse.
I might direct your attention to a couple of fabulous scenes featuring Bill Nighy, who plays Meares, one of the dog-team drivers. Meares says he'd rather swim back to New Zealand than spend another season under Scott's command. He later tells Scott, in so many words, that he finds it highly unlikely that Scott will live to criticize Meares' choices. Nighy is terrific.
In case you missed it, this screenplay is based on a historical non-fiction piece created after it was discovered that many unflattering portions of Scott's diary were excised from the publication released to the public. There has been quite the resistance from many quarters to a revised viewpoint of a man considered to be a great British hero. Apparently, some recent discovery that the weather was particularly cold when Scott tried to return from the Pole is cited as startling scientific evidence that this presentation of Scott as a peevish incompetent should be set aside. well, whose decision was it to try walking there and back anyway? As Meares says (in this dramatization): 'any man who sits in the Antarctic and whines about the weather is unfit to lead'.
I'll close with a quote, not from this film, but from the 1948 'Scott of the Antarctic' with John Mills. The Scott character (Mills) tells Nansen (the elder statesman of Arctic exploration) that he is going to the South Pole with motor sledges, Siberian ponies, and dogs. Nansen replies that Scott should take dogs, dogs and more dogs.
Amundsen did - Scott didn't. Case closed.
Enjoy this excellent re-creation of events. It's insightful.
From start to finish it takes a rather anti-Scott view but in light of the "evidence" presented here it's not really surprising as this is myth stripping at it's finest. Gone is the famous last line of Oates, which I always considered a fabrication anyway, and also rather surprisingly cut is the reaction of Scott to the South Pole.
The Uk cast are without exception wonderful with such wonderful character actors as Richard Wilson, Hugh Grant and Tom Georgeson getting very little screen time.
See this and then go and seek out John Mills.
Martin Shaw's Scott is irascible, peevish, and stupid, just as Huntford wanted him. He does seize upon good qualities as they come his way, but basically he's a whipped man, sent south from his wife's desire to have a great husband. Perhaps he just wants to go to the South Pole to get away from her.
Amundsen, the man who got to the South Pole first, is treated as a parfait knight in every way. The Norwegian scenes were as well done as the British scenes.
However, the film, in its debunking of the Scott legend, hides some evidence and creates other evidence. For instance, Scott's dislike of using dogs was not a hidebound reflex, but the fact that in an earlier expedition, dogs did not perform adequately. He knew his life would depend on them in the polar region, and his experience told them he could not rely on them. He thought the tractors and Siberian ponies would, however, be good replacements. Unfortunately, the ponies were more useless than the dogs might have been.
Amundseon, however, had problems himself. He never wanted to go south, but wanted the North Pole. Too bad: not one, but two men [both, if you know your history, outrageous liars] claimed the North Pole, Cook and Peary. Cook was a pal of Amundsen's from an earlier expedition where he'd saved many lives as a doctor. Though they were fast friends, Amundsen did not realize or blinded himself to the fact that Cook, when he could not achieve a feat (like climbing Mt. Mckinley) would lie about his achievements shamelessly. He was not only a fraud, he later became a swindler.
As one would expect in a movie like this, Cook is portrayed in a positive light; and he's obviously given North Polar priority, though in fact he never came within a thousand miles of the pole.
Amundsen, finding the glory he sought to the north taken from him by two skilled liars, neither of whom reached the North Pole in fact, decided to take the South Pole, because he was deeply in debt at the time and thought he would make money off it. So, telling the world he was heading north on a scientific expedition, went south instead. Scott, learning about this only when his expedition was on its way, was forced to expedite some of his own arrangements, thereby condemning his own polar party in a race he hadn't expected. And since he arrived at the pole only days after Amundsen, but nevertheless second, spent unnecessary time collecting useless scientific data, and collecting worthless rock samples, trying to ensure his own expedition served science, if nothing else; but he was swindled out of polar priority.
One area where Huntford is dead wrong, and the movie, is his complaints that Scott whined about the weather. In fact, we now know, as Scott could not with his more primitive weather gauging, that the weather was much worse than anyone could've expected; that under normal conditions as were known at the time, Scott's preparations would've been adequate; and it was by luck more than dogs and skis that Amundsen didn't get bogged down and die in the same conditions Scott had.
And Scott proved himself a man of honor, of course, in that Amundsen, perhaps snidely, left a letter for Scott to be taken back in case the Norwegian died; and Scott and his party died lugging home the letter, carefully preserved, that would've presented evidence to the world that Scott reached the pole second, even though at the time, no doubt the world would've taken an Englishman's word if Scott, like Cook and Peary, decided to lie about his achievements.
Unfortunately, the race to the south pole, unlike the race north, involved two basically honorable men, who felt forced by circumstances to chicanery: Amundsen, by lying to the world about the real purpose of his expedition; and Scott, by forcing his men to achieve the pole in an over-hasty way to beat his unexpected competitor.
As it turned out, both men got what they deserved. Scott, though it cost him his life, got the South Polar glory; and Amundsen got priority, though, since he started out his expedition with deception (as Cook and Peary ended their's) earned neither fame nor money, but only his place in history.
As Huntford's book is now seriously undermined in parts (especially in the new finds about the weather, which come from core samples unavailable at the time Huntford decided to undermine Britain's South Polar hero) it would be nice to see a new Scott and Amundsen show in the light of the new evidence, especially with such a fine cast and good production values as this show presented. But as that's not likely, this is the best version of that history you'll find. It was shot in Antarctic conditions, and the cast no doubt suffered.
Just keep in mind that its purpose was a hatchet job on a hero, and that Scott wasn't as bad, nor Amundsen so perfect, as the movie depicts; but both blow Cook and Peary out of the water as men of honor and greatness.
In an ideal world, Amundsen would've gotten credit for priority at the North Pole, which he wanted and deserved; and Scott would've gotten credit for the South Pole, which he deserved -- especially the way he and his men valiantly fought against the unexpected weather conditions with their then state-of-the-art (now primitive) methods. Both men deserved better than they got. And Scott deserves a better show than this. But this is the best polar drama ever, even compared to Branagh's wonderful "Shackleton".
If you compare their diaries (and you can now, as Huntford did), Scott stayed in his tent on days when Amundsen and his crew did their fifteen miles (they did fifteen miles a day unless they were completely blizzard-bound - some days in their fur underwear and nothing else). And they had the same weather on nearly the same days. Scott started later, since his teams couldn't travel when it was really cold, so he was out on the land-mass later than Amundsen by nearly a month (which is why he encountered colder temperatures). Scott assumed that changing his headcount from four to five men at the last minute would make no difference in the food supply when they'd very carefully planned exactly how much food they'd need for a four-man team, with no contingency for delays. Amundsen ensured that he'd have at least double the amount of food and fuel he'd need for the whole trip.
As to dogs and ponies - Scott didn't like dogs, because he didn't understand them, either how to work with them, nor how to drive them. The first time he saw dogs being driven properly was on the barrier by Cecil Meares. The scenes where Meares drives past them, and is later found relaxing, waiting for the rest of the teams to arrive are taken verbatim from Scott's and Meares' diaries. Ponies are NOT appropriate for the Antarctic environment, since they have to pull their own food for every mile they're going to walk. Dogs could eat seal and penguin, both of which are native to the Antarctic; they could also eat each other, if necessary.
Amundsen had to trail-blaze an entirely new route, through and over some of the most difficult terrain the Antarctic has to offer. Scott had a map of his route up to the last ninety-seven miles. The Beardmore glacier (Scott's route) is a nice, long, slow climb to the Pole. The Axel Heiberg glacier requires planes flying over it to use their maximum rate of climb; Amundsen and his crew pioneered a route through the ice falls of the Heiberg in less than a week.
And yes, there was a conspiracy to tart up Scott's diaries for public consumption. Scott's widow, Kathleen, worked with J.M. Barrie (of Peter Pan fame) to edit his diaries, making him more of a heroic figure, and cutting out the more disparaging comments Scott made about his companions.
Planning is everything: Scott and his companions died of starvation and scurvy; Amundsen and his crew gained weight on their trip.
I'm not saying that Scott wasn't a brave fellow or that his journey was less than that of Amundsen. I can't imagine man-hauling a 300 lb sledge for hundreds of miles. The tragedy of Scott is that, had he done his research (as Amundsen had), he wouldn't have had to, and he might have beat Amundsen to the pole.
Beautiful cinematography and several very solid performances by Sverre Anker Ousdal as the introspective and driven Amundsen; Martin Shaw nails the effete martinet, Scott; Michael Maloney is great as Scott's betrayed 2nd Officer, Teddy Evans; Toralv Maurstad as the outspoken Norwegian polar veteran, Hjalmer Johanssen; and, Richard Morant as, W.E.G. Oates, the army officer in a Navy environment and apparently the only man in Scott's party capable of independent thought.