Encounters at the End of the World
Toronto International Film Festival
TORONTO -- Cinema's self-styled anthropologist Werner Herzog, whose "Grizzly Man" emerged as one of 2005's more intriguing documentaries, returns with another thoroughly unique travelogue.
"Encounters at the End of the World" finds Herzog accepting an invitation from the National Science Foundation to pay a visit to Antarctica's McMurdo Station, despite having warned them in advance that he's not at all inclined to make a penguin film.
Instead he and his cameraman Peter Zeilinger are more concerned with the kind of people who'd be drawn to this desolate, far corner of the earth, and some of those subjects prove to be just as colorful and intriguing as those more exotic species swimming around beneath the ice.
While oddly shaped, the impressive-looking and sounding Discovery Channel release retains considerable entertainment value on the strength of Herzog's never-dull, very personal narrating style.
After doing some of the obligatory touristy things--at least, what would pass for touristy in an industrial-looking compound that's home to over 1000 research-related personnel every October through February--Herzog starts to focus on a sampling of those individuals and uncovers some subtle, shared traits between them and the wildlife they're monitoring.
He also spends some time at an orientation program, where newcomers to McMurdo stumble around in the snow wearing buckets over their heads in a simulation of extreme blizzard conditions.
And, despite his initial anti-penguin stance, Herzog ultimately comes around, but only on his inimitable terms, asking an uncomfortable expert the tough questions about whether there were any gay penguins or if others were prone to madness.
Coming from the filmmaker who in the past has been drawn to individuals driven to building opera houses in the middle of the Peruvian jungle or out to prove that a Grizzly is man's best friend, nothing less would be expected.
ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD
Name of production company
Credits: Director: Werner Herzog
Producer: Henry Kaiser
Executive producers: Erik Nelson, Dave Harding, Phil Fairclough, Julian Hobbs
Director of photography: Peter Zeitlinger
Music: Henry Kaiser, David Lindley
Editor: Joe Bini.
Narrator: Werner Herzog
Running time -- 99 minutes
No MPAA rating