Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Encounters at the End of the World ***

Director: Werner Herzog

After announcing that he isn't in Antarctica to make another movie about "fluffy penguins", visionary director Werner Herzog goes deep into the mysterious continent to bring together something that is part travelogue, part science film and part philosophical exploration.
The film begins when he arrives to McMurdo Research Station, the largest human settlement in the continent that has become some sort of post-hippie colony where bankers end up as bus drivers and descendants of Aztec royalty work with plumbing; people as many as they're different all come together to discover the beauty that comes with the unknown.
Herzog condemns some of their mundane activites like yoga as "abominable" and seems ecstatic once he leaves the colony and goes into the wild.
There the film is divided into chapters; we meet a group of deep sea divers collecting mono cellular creatures, a linguist expert who now looks after the colony crops, a group of volcanologists looking deep into the heart of the planet and then he does see some penguins (which ironically have the most haunting effect in the entire film), and the reserved man who studies them.
Herzog is obviously working on a different level of thought, which is why the film is uneven as a documentary, he refuses to settle for didactism and offers his own ideosynchratic take on almost everything he observes (think more "Sans Soleil" than "March of the Penguins").
His narration gives the film the edge which sets it apart and makes it even more enjoyable (his questions towards the pinguin expert and the random-ness of his Napoleon Bonaparte reference will erupt giggles and make you ponder on the standards humanity has chosen to measure mental illness), you can feel him smile through the lens when one of the scientists compares seal calls to Pink Floyd music and he seems overjoyed when he wonders on how alien archaelogists will catalogue our planet once we're gone.
The movie is concerned with global warming and the eventual demise of human kind, but Herzog isn't an alarmist, much less a pessimist, and in his loving wanderlust he evokes magic when he makes us conscious of all the things going on in the planet without us knowing.
He points out that now we have lost our original sense of adventure and we do things to be in books, without telling us that he belongs to the first kind the way he embraces everything will almost child like wonder is enough for us to understand what he means.
The documentary covers various elements and because of this sometimes it feels aimless, perhaps it might've worked better as a television serial giving him chance to dig deeper into every particular field, but also this would've removed the final cut from its quirkiness.
Sometimes it feels as if you're watching an old fashioned slide show from one of his vacations, he's having a drink while he recounts his adventures and you're the sedentary kid on his couch,
this also brings the film its biggest foe, because not everyone will want to travel along with him.

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