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ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD

SYNOPSIS:
Filmmaker Werner Herzog and his cameraman travel to Antarctica and discover more than the raw beauty at the bottom of the world.

Review by Louise Keller:
Two years after Grizzly Man, filmmaker Werner Herzog discovers the unexpected in this wonderful documentary set in Antarctica, in which the characters he meets are every bit as fascinating as the unique elements. From the very start, Herzog tells this will not be another penguin movie, but ironically it is the revelations about penguins' sexual and mental behaviour that is the biggest surprise. Herzog's distinctive and wry narration plays a key role as he is enticed to Antarctica, lured by spectacular underwater footage below the thick ice. It's Herzog's offbeat take on what is already a fascinating topic that makes the film something special.

The human characters are as diverse as they are intriguing. Herzog observes they are professional dreamers. Like the former Colorado banker who drives the humungous Ivan the Terra Bus, the fork driver/philosopher with cosmic dreams, part Apache journeyman plumber with Aztec royal family heritage. This is a place where PHDs wash the dishes, there are linguists where no language is required and a female computer expert with unlimited gee-whizz adventure stories, who contorts her body into a piece of hand-held luggage at local talent nights.

The military plane from New Zealand lands on the exact spot where legendary explorer Shackleton landed nearly a century before. While Shackleton may have perceived the ice 'as a static monster that had to be crossed,' the glaciologists study it as a living, dynamic and ever-shifting being. Our base is described as 'an ugly mining town and noisy construction site' (complete with climate controlled homes, an aerobic studio and ATM machine) from which all inhabitants must go to survival school before heading into the field, where horizons blend into the icy expanse. The scene in which a handful of men with a white square bucket over their heads (simulating white-out condition) could be mistaken in other circumstances, as a Halloween party.

The real stars of course, are the continent of Antarctica and its creatures - both above and below the surface. It's a bit like being on another planet. The spectacular underwater sequences that showcase the extraordinary alien-like species are accompanied by magnificent choral music - and to great effect. The footage is breathtaking. We also are privileged to watch seals feeding their young, but the revelations about penguin 'prostitutes' are perhaps the film's most extraordinary. Gay penguins? Insane penguins? Here is a very different view drawn from a reticent marine ecologist. Beyond the stunning white ice and mystique of the underwater sequences, there is a sting in the tail of this haunting documentary that links us to the ever-hostile world below, like those sci-fi doomsday movies the film's cell-biologist shows.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

ENCOUNTERS AT THE END OF THE WORLD (G)
(US, 2007)

CAST: Documentary with David Ainley, Samuel S. Bowser, Regina Eisert, Kevin Emery, Ryan Andrew Evans, Ashrita Furman, Peter Gorham

NARRATION: Werner Herzog

PRODUCER: Henry Kaiser

DIRECTOR: Werner Herzog

SCRIPT: Werner Herzog

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Zeitlinger

EDITOR: Joe Bini

MUSIC: Henry Kaiser, David Lindley

PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Shock

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Melbourne, Sydney: September 10, 2009 (exclusively at Nova and Chauvel Cinemas)







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