Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Encounters At The End Of The World - Review

Before starting into this review, I do want to point out that this film has been available in the USA for the better part of a year and a half, and actually came out in UK cinemas back in April 2009, however Belfast being Belfast, the good people of Norn Iron have only recieved this film on the big screen this week.

It is not very often I take it upon myself to watch documentaries in the cinema, however when it comes to Werner Herzog, exceptions must be made. Having a career that has spanned over four decades I feel shame upon myself that it is only within recent years I have became acquainted with his wonderful eye for film making in the form of 2005's beautifully eccentric and downright odd Grizzly Man and the film he produced after, starring Christian Bale in Rescue Dawn. Taking place predominantly in South Pole, the German film maker embarks on a quest along with cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger to Antarctica to meet people who live and work there, and to capture footage of the continent's unique locations. As Herzog explains quite cheekily at the start of the feature "The National Science Foundation invited me even though I made it clear I would not be making another movie about penguins," but a exploration the dreams of the people and the landscape. And apart from one scene he stays true to his word. Not so much a plot, EATEOTW is split into various segments with some of the most beautiful cinematography this side of the BBC's Natural History unit and just as emotive music to really signify the epic vision of the landscape of a region of the world that still remains relatively alien to most of us.

One of the aspects I thought Herzog captured extremely well was concentrating on the people actually living there in this somewhat hostile living conditions as oppose to just documenting the natural landscape, and possibly the most remarkable segments of the film were the film maker simply interviewing these men and women, and all of them giving their own unique story as to how and why they have assembled at "the end of the world" as such. From being sick of a normal mundane life as a banker in the USA, or being persecuted in the Soviet Union to merely feeding on the human desire of curiosity for the benefit of science, Herzog approaches these people as an innocent bystander showing a genuine interest in their lives, additionally to add to the genuine nature of the scenes Herzog often only met his interview subjects only minutes before he began shooting them. Strong and unpretentious Herzog delivers a documentary that could have easily been another self righteous poke at our fragile guilt at how we are slowly destroying some of the planet's natural beauty however he decides to not so much engross himself and the audience in the doom and gloom portion of some similar features such as Al Gore's visceral anti-Global Warming documentary The Inconvenient Truth but bask in the sheer wonder and unapologetic beauty that this part of the world offers, as well as the appeal it might have on the people who desire to experience it.

Final Thoughts
Before sitting down to watch this film I half expected just a standard Attenbouragh-esque documentary filled with absolutely stunning shots with an equally booming tear jerking soundtrack to boot in the same kind of vein of Sigur Ros' music documentary with a difference, 2007's Heim, and to be honest I got what I wanted, however much to my surprise I also recieved more than I could imagine. Werner Herzog gives the audience an absolutely breath taking and profoundly emotional study of human nature and desire in a quest for knowledge and understanding, not necessarily in the realms of science and nature, but of our own personal achievements and accomplishments against a haunting monolithic landscape of ice. Having never reviewed a documentary before on the blog I'm happy that the first was an absolutely wonderful movie from one of the most consistent and established film makers of all time, which is clearly a testament to Herzog's continuing drive and passion considering this was made in 2007 and his debut feature was way back in 1962. Go see. Now.


See this if you like...
Grizzly Man, Sigur Ros' Heim, An Inconvenient Truth

Encounters At The End Of The World was released....em...a while ago. It's available on DVD in America and will be available in the U.K. on DVD from the 31st August.

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