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'Werner Herzog' takes his camera to Antarctica where we meet the odd men and women who have dedicated their lives to furthering the cause of science in treacherous conditions. A scientist studies neutrinos, which are everywhere, yet elusive; he likens them to spirits. A researcher's nighttime performance art includes contorting her body into a luggage bag. A survival guide teaches his students to survive white-out conditions by wearing cartoon-face buckets over their heads. Animal researchers milk mother seals as part of their study. Volcanologists offer advice on what to do when a volcano erupts. A pipefitter shows us the anomaly in his hands that he says are a sign he descended from Atzec royalty. A former Colorado banker drives what he has christened Ivan the Terra Bus. An underwater diver shows his colleagues DVDs of apocalyptic sci-fi films like Them! (1954). And -- though Herzog declares he's not "making another film about penguins" -- we meet a penguin researcher who answers ... Written by
Werner Herzog has disclosed that the scene of scientists putting their ears to the ice to listen to seal calls was entirely staged. Herzog asked them to position themselves according to his directions, and the sounds were previously recorded through underwater microphones by sound artist Douglas Quin. See more »
As if we had wanted to leave one remnant of our presence on this planet, they would find a frozen sturgeon mysteriously hidden away beneath the mathematically precise true south pole. They stash it back away into its frozen shrine for another eternity.
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Werner Herzog goes to Antarctica and shows us the people who live and work there
Encounters is an almost straight forward account of Werner Herzog going to Antarctica.Invited to go by one of the scientific organizations he agreed to go because he was fascinated by life under the sea ice (see his Wild Blue Yonder which used footage from under the ice to represent an alien world) and wanted to have a chance to film life there. He also warned them it would not result in film about fluffy penguins.
This is not Shackleton's Antarctica. The main US base is more like a mining colony anywhere on the fringes of civilization then what you think of when you think Antarctica. Its strangely modern and looks to be almost anywhere people mine. Indeed there is an odd shot of the modern camp with Scott's hut in the distance that signals how times have changed.
Herzog's film is really about some of the wayward travelers who have reached the frontier. Herzog is curious what sort of people they are and finds them to be a rather philosophical lot. They are what you would consider explorers of the 18th or 19th century looking for something greater then themselves. As one guy says "Where else do you find guys with Phds doing the dishes, or linguists on the one place on earth where there is no native language." Its an amusing portrait of people I think many of us would like to be.
We also get a portrait of what life is like there. Of the eternal sun (which annoys Herzog)Of the drabness of the living quarters (motel like)mixed with individual expression. We see the survival training, the various scientific studies going on (including one about penguins which cause Herzog to ponder if they go mad). and we see the landscape both above and below the ice on land and in the sea. These portraits of the land and seascapes are stunning. Herzog's ability to mix music and image creates some hypnotic passages that in part reminded me Koyaanisqatsi or Luc Besson's Atlantis. Its magical and creates sequences that you hate to see end.
If there is any flaw is that the film kind of just ends. There is a wonderful final quote by Alan Watts, but the film ultimately feels like a philosophical travelogue about a summer vacation instead of something grander then what I saw on my vacation. I'm sure had it not been Werner Herzog behind the camera I would not have been disappointed.
Still you must see the film on a big screen if you can. Its really beautiful at times. It will enlighten and inspire you- much more than this review will. And even though this is a Discovery Channel film, I'm glad I saw it where I did because there is something about the end credits with the seal songs echoing all thorough the theater from front to back that you can't get at home. The long confines of the Film Forum in New York really allows for the magic of a sound scape.
7.5 out of 10
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