Encounters at the End of the World

Encounters at the End of the World
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Off the map, things get strange.
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Herzog and cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger go to Antarctica to meet people who live and work there, and to capture footage of the continent's unique locations. Herzog's voiceover narration explains that his film will not be a typical Antarctica film about "fluffy penguins", but will explore the dreams of the people and the landscape.

Title:Encounters at the End of the World
Release Date:September 1, 2007
Runtime:
MPAA Rating:G
Genres:Documentary
Production Co.:Discovery Films
Production Countries:United States of America
Director:Werner Herzog
Writers:
Plot Keywords:ice
Alternative Titles:
  • 世界尽头的奇遇 - [CN]
  • Encuentros en el Fin del Mundo - [ES]
  • Rencontres au bout du monde - [FR]

Encounters at the End of the World Reviews

  • A truly beautiful look at Antarctica and the fascinating people who work there
    by xlr884 on 5 September 2007

    80 out of 92 people found the following review useful:

    I had a chance to see Werner Herzog's latest documentary at the Telluride Film Festival, where it received great buzz and very high praise upon its debut. Herzog informed the audience that he was shown some footage taken by a photographer in Antarctica while doing post-production on Grizzly Man and he was immediately entranced by what he saw. From this he was compelled to visit the continent and shoot some footage of his own, which became Encounters at the End of the World.

    The film perfectly balances both gorgeous footage of the continent as well as fascinating interviews and anecdotes of the many researchers and workers of the McMurdo research station. There are many humorous moments, such as a scene in which visitors must go through a follow-the-leader type exercise before being allowed to venture out into the wild. Participants in the exercise must wear buckets adorned with ridiculous caricatures over their heads in order to simulate a whiteout. They must then try to follow each other as a group and find a researcher a distance away. Herzog simply observes as the participants fail over and over to find the researcher, which left the audience laughing for minutes on end. Another excellent scene has Herzog interviewing an expert on penguins, who goes into some of their more bizarre behavior, such when penguins go insane. In both cases, Herzog features striking footage and amusing interviews and narration.

    The film fits in well with Herzog's already substantial canon. It is a beautiful look at a beautiful continent populated by a forklift driver with a PhD, a woman who once traveled to South America in a sewage pipe on the back of a truck, researchers who play electric guitars on top of research station to celebrate discovering three new species of aquatic life in one day, and many more. Their stories converge where all the lines on the map meet at the end of the world. Herzog shot the film with a crew of just himself and the camera operator, and the result is a film with some of the most beautiful footage I've ever seen. Do not miss this when it receives general release!

  • Not another movie about penguins.
    by snafoolery on 18 October 2007

    51 out of 60 people found the following review useful:

    My school recently sponsored a screening of this film with Werner Herzog himself in attendance. Herzog joked with the audience that part of his ambition to make this film was because he wanted to document the Antarctic without making "another movie about penguins." And although a portion of the movie DOES contain a segment about penguins, it plays a minor role in a film of many elements which compose a curious and beautiful documentary. It is a study of both Nature and Man: by turns breathtaking in its landscape (especially the underwater photography), at other times funny and serious, as Herzog interviews the motley crew of individuals who call Antarctica home for the greater part of the year. Herzog narrates the film with a tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, yet always maintains respect for the subjects he covers. While he quipped with us afterward that this is not your typical Discovery Channel fare, he said he hopes to broadcast this film sometime on Discovery early next year. If that is the case, it is not a documentary anyone should miss.

  • Best Film of 2008
    by Chris Barry on 30 August 2008

    41 out of 57 people found the following review useful:

    'Encounters at the End of the World' is an engrossing, fascinating exploration of what it takes to exist in one of the world's most unforgiving landscapes.

    Almost a companion piece to Herzog's earlier poem-like Fata Morgana, the film brings us into a world hidden to almost all but a very chosen few.

    There are incredible exchanges between Herzog and his human subjects, who are all researchers studying various aspects of the Antarctic eco-sphere. One such exchange with a cell biologist involves the idea that humans evolved from the ocean to escape what the scientist terms the 'absolute horror' of existence among the extremely vicious, often microscopic 'monsters' that savagely fight for their existence in the frozen waters. Some of these creatures are shown in remarkable underwater photography and it's not hard to see what he means.

    Another interview that I found both terrifying and fascinating was one with a journeyman plumber (who also is allegedly related to the Ancient Aztec royalty) about the effects of global warming. I didn't like 'An Inconvenient Truth' and have always been somewhat on the fence about global warming. But the way this man describes global warming set the hairs on my arms on end. The subject is returned to later in the film with several scientists advocating an even bleaker outlook on the topic. Their consensus is that we have already tipped the point of no return and that our existence as humans is already marked for extinction.

    As one glacierologist, pointing at a radar screen showing formations of large glaciers puts it: "I don't want to know what happens when that melts." By the way, did you know that seal calls are like the sound of Moog synths and earlier Pink Floyd? I haven't even scratched the surface of this film. There are so many breathtaking moments of sheer rugged beauty that it will bring tears to your eyes.

    Do not see this movie on video or DVD. Unlike 'Grizzly Man' which was more of a television format film, "Encounters At the End of The World" is deeply, deeply cinematic.

    How many Bat-films do you need to see anyway? Do your brain a favor and lose yourself in 'Encounters at the End of The World'.

    Best film of '08 hands down.

  • Dear Future Aliens: This is why we've left you a fish
    by revival05 on 18 November 2008

    28 out of 37 people found the following review useful:

    The world ends at Antarctica, at least geographically - there's nothing further south - and quite possibly in a greater sense. Werner Herzog has gone there to make a film, catching the opportunity to capture some of it's beauty in a way rarely seen on film, and also to share some of his thoughts about nature and humanity. In and around the large McMurdo Research Station he circulates the various people working there, joins them on their fieldwork and interviews them, all resulting in a blend of beautiful images, personal micro-stories, funny sidetracks, well paced informative moments and an often fascinating look at nature's inexplicable mystery, humanity's as well as Mother Earth's.

    This is a large canvas, perhaps slightly difficult to put in proper words. Above all, all of the ideas and thoughts within the movie stems largely from the viewer's own imagination, Herzog is merely - with his warm and serious, yet inexplicable witty, narration - planting the mental seeds and asking the questions, some rhetorical and some forever impossible to answer. And it is remarkable how he does this, how this film is designed. All throughout, Herzog moves about like a genuine tourist and at the beginning I am surprised how spontaneous the whole idea feels, almost as if I am actually watching a private home video made for personal remembrance. The only difference being of course, that it would be the kind of home video Herzog would make. And be that as it may, this is still a great movie, because it continues from this elementary first stage of how he travels to the station, combined with stock footage of the explorers of the 1800s, into that of a true thinker's exploration in a romantic setting. The form of the film gradually evolves, first small steps with the reality of the small, modern society that has been developed, the paradox of a restaurant with a beloved ice-cream machine (needless to point out further, and despised by Herzog), and with a scene of people having an unusual way of training, in case they would get lost in a blizzard. From then on, at least I was hooked and from these minor steps of humanity looking itself, if but slightly, in the mirror, the movie blossoms into a greater and greater abyss of questions that human beings will always feel the hunger to answer, questions they never will be able to answer but questions that human beings will always need to have.

    Human beings, now there's another thing. Herzog encounters a lot of inhabitants of the station and gets to know them, and while not to say that there aren't interesting people throughout the movie, but here we have the adventurous woman who has her own party trick where she amuses people by becoming luggage. She has many stories to tell, like how she hitch-hiked from USA to Africa in a sewer pipe. Another man claims he once survived getting killed by the mayans . There are others with less dramatic things to say. Like one of the biologist divers, slightly sad since he's decided that at that very day he will perform his last dive. He feels like his job is done. Another man is simply showing how he has two fingers of the same length, which would prove that he's got Aztec blood in his veins. Or so they say.

    You might understand what I'm getting at. In these very sequences of utter realism, we do get to feel the fresh air of a normal day out at the Antarctica. And it helps settle the notion that this is a film about humanity. We are constantly in the real world, with real people, in contrast to Grizzly Man (2005), Herzog's previous nature documentary, where we were indeed surrounded by breathtaking nature, but we were also viewing the Timothy Treadwell show, put on by the star persona of himself, if there ever were another. Here we meet the actual answer to Treadwell's love to nature. Science, philosophy, mere being in the never ending light over the ices. Herzog seems very much in love with nature, be it ice skies underneath the surface, or active, thundering volcanoes or just the remarkable penguin scene that could break your heart (even Herzog could not resist one of those sentimental scenes directed by nature, despite even claiming early on that this is "not a penguin film"). It may be penguins, but it's hauntingly beautiful nonetheless.

    Throughout the movie, Herzog keeps expanding his view on nature and humanity until we reach the end, and the topic we've all been waiting for. The climate change. As you'd expect though Encounters at the End of the World is by no means a propaganda film, it would obviously be beneath Herzog's dignity. No, it seems like Herzog quietly accepts that mankind might be headed for doom - it's as natural as the deranged penguins leaving it's flock to never return - and instead asks what alien lifeforms might think of our remains if they would land to explore in thousands of years. Yes, the explorations goes on. And I think it is importance to remember that the end of the world is not the end of the world. Mother Earth will be alright. She has all the time in the universe. Makind however, we may be getting near the end. I can't help but feel, when I see the colossal, wide, arctic images and the spreading cancerstain of urbanism, that after all mankind has done, Mother Earth deserves to be left alone for a while. There has to be some peace and quiet in the Universe. If the aliens do land, and they do study our hideouts, and they do feel confused over finding a fish deep down in a tunnel in the Antarctica; I'd suggest they'd watch Encounters at the End of the World.

  • Good, but Not for a Herzog
    by adlawn on 16 July 2008

    32 out of 49 people found the following review useful:

    I am a big fan of Herr Zog. But while Encounters provided me with an overall positive experience, it is a flawed film. First, the good news. Hearing the inorganically musical underwater vocalizations of Weddell seals through the theater's multichannel speaker system was alone worth the price of admission. One of the scientists studying the pinnipeds aptly describes their varied and otherworldly sounds as Pink Floydian. I am also pleased to have beheld extended footage of the magnificent world beneath the sea ice. It is a teeming environment whose surface we are only beginning to scratch, and I cannot blame Herzog for choosing choral background music that perhaps screams "awe" a bit too loudly; there is no danger of it cheapening the majesty of the frozen stalactites or the splendor of the sunlight dispersing through the ice-ceiling. Lastly, I'll note the humor, usually intentional, that Herzog uncharacteristically displays. His Teutonic deadpan is not his only comedic asset; he has a keen sense of the ridiculous, and ample targets among the many dubious denizens of the Antarctic.

    My complaints are essentially twofold. First, the movie is disjointed. It is a hodgepodge of Herzog's encounters with various Antarctic researchers and residents; there is no apparent order or theme. This is a minor criticism, as most of the segments make for fine viewing on their own, but it would have been more satisfying if Herzog had presented a unifying thesis or two about the Light Continent (aside from the oft-repeated observation that it is populated by a fair number of "professional dreamers"). He should have at least arranged the segments in a clearly meaningful sequence. At its best, the film made no more of an impression on me than "that was beautiful," "that was cool," or "I didn't know that." Second, and more significantly, Herzog's narration is at times irritating. As someone who has studied climate change, I share his frustration and pessimism. But there is no call for saddling the film's final moments with apocalyptic platitudes (e.g., "the end of human life is assured") and a cursory reference to global warming. These sentiments are incongruous with the rest of the film, which does not substantially address environmentalism and whose most haunting scene is of a mad penguin that abandons its flock and runs inland towards distant mountains, to certain death, with a singular determination. Herzog's doomsayings, in any event, are better communicated by the satellite images of rapidly melting polar ice that we observe on a climatologist's computer screen. I know that Herzog is capable of more measured reflections on the impersonal and uncontrollable power of nature; for example, from Grizzly Man: "what haunts me is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food. But for Timothy Treadwell, this bear was a friend, a savior." In Encounters, Herzog superficially and self-indulgently overstates his case. I'm looking forward to his next film.

  • Antarctica as only Herzog could deliver it...
    by death-hilarious on 13 September 2007

    17 out of 21 people found the following review useful:

    When you go into a documentary about Antarctica by Werner Herzog, you can't at all be certain about what you're going to get, though you can be pretty sure that whatever it is, it's not going to be about cute penguins. It turns out that Herzog was invited to stay in McMurdo Station as a resident artist along with a camera man, and this documentary for Discovery Films was what came out of that visit. With characteristic eccentricity, what captures the most attention in Herzog's lens is not the pristine landscape or wildlife, but the rather mundane sight of the, albeit colorful, people who work and live in Antarctica. As one of the people Herzog interviews puts it, it's like all of the interesting people who cut themselves loose from conventional life eventually fall down and meet here at the bottom of the world. Here we meet unforgettable characters like the philosopher truck driver, the lady who traveled through south America in a sewage pipe, and even a descendant of Aztec royalty. Their anecdotes and the narration will keep you in stitches. This isn't to say that Herzog doesn't take in the local sights and sounds. We're taken under the ocean into underwater 'cathedrals', we hear the psychedelic sounds of mating seals, we see a live volcano and even catch a penguin or two. However, the narration remains light and funny, and the true focus always remains on the human inhabitants. Don't expect a grand message about conservation or anything else, indeed Herzog's view of mankind seems to be very fatalistic. I think as long as there are interesting human beings doing interesting things, Herzog will be happy ... and busy.

  • Not your average science documentary
    by LaFeeChartreuse on 31 July 2008

    29 out of 45 people found the following review useful:

    Encounters at the End of the World is a quirky and interesting film, definitely a departure from your average dry science documentary or eye-candy nature film, though it has elements of both.

    It focuses predominantly on the odd collection of people drawn to live in an Antarctic research station, and to a slightly lesser degree on the oddness of the region itself, and the bizarre bits of scientific trivia that can be found there. Then there the bonus meanderings about the ultimate doom of humanity and whether we originally emerged from the sea onto land to escape the "horror" of marine ecosystems.

    Many of its parts are fascinating, but for me, it didn't quite come together as a whole. It drifted in a lot of different directions, but seemed overall to be lacking in focus a bit. There were also a couple of elements that disturbed me a little - one was the inconsistency of talking about how humanity is destroying itself one moment, and then bashing "tree huggers and whale huggers" the next. I guess it's OK to notice that we're damaging the world, but not to try and do something about it? The other was that in some cases he seemed to be going out of his way to depict the people he interviewed in embarrassing ways, with things like leaving the camera lingering on them after the interview appeared to be finished, as they stood nervously, apparently trying to figure out if it was over or not.

    But on the whole I would recommend it -- the flaws are offset by some impressive visuals (especially the underwater footage), dry humour, interesting ideas to ponder, and a really great soundtrack by Henry Kaiser and David Lindley, which work very well with the oddness of the content.

  • There is No Point that is South of the South Pole
    by MacAindrais on 21 December 2008

    14 out of 18 people found the following review useful:

    Encounters at the End of the World (2008) ****

    "There is no point that is south of the south pole." That's a no brainer, but have you ever thought about that before reading that statement? Such a simple and obvious saying, yet there's something quite poignant buried within it. It's pointed out by one of Werner Herzog's dreamers - a philosopher and part time forklift driver - that he found on his encounters at the end of the world.

    Herzog begins his new documentary warning us that this will not be another film about fluffy penguins; his questions about nature are far different. For example, why does a sophisticated creature like a chimp not make use of inferior creatures - they could saddle goats and ride off into the sunset. Herzog delivers with a pondering and quizzical film. Encounters at the End of the World is about the intricacies - and insanities - of life on Antarctica. His visit was spurred on by the footage taken by one of the under-ice divers, a friend of his. He opens the film with the images of what appears to be hauntingly blue skies and bubbly white clouds, but its not skies nor clouds, but the clear waters and hulking ice. Herzog, always fascinated with the oddity and great beauty of the natural world, fills his documentary with stunning images and sequences. Underwater divers film strange creatures under the ice, and massive ice formations while navigating their way back to the single hole in the ice, without tether lines to guide them. Volcanologists traverse dormant lava tubes, only having to be weary of poison gases that can be found in some.

    Herzog's base of operations is McMurdo, the largest settlement on the continent. He describes it as an ugly mining town. And it is ugly. It's filled with scientists, wanderers, adventurers and dreamers, all looking to 'jump off the margins of the map,' as one observer puts it. It also has "abominations" such as aerobics and yoga studios, even an ATM. Before he go in the field, he, like everyone else, must attend survival school, where among other things students learn to build shelter, and then must spend the night in it. They also partake in a white out simulation, achieved by wearing white buckets on their heads. They wander out to find the instructor, playing a lost peer. As they get disorientated, the scene becomes comical, but also points out our inferiority when up against nature.

    Herzog does make a stop to visit some penguins briefly, and the man who studies them - reportedly no longer much of a conversationist with humans since he spends so much time isolated with penguins. Herzog's questions are amusing, but thoughtful. "Are there gay penguins?" "Is there such thing as madness among penguins?" The answer to that last question leads to one of the films most memorable and profound sequences.

    The film at once is an admiration of those who find themselves working at the end of the world, and an admonition of the manipulation of adventure. Herzog wastes no time on the uninteresting people there. He talks with a scientist who describes a horrifying world that would tear us apart - if it were not too small to be seen by the human eye. He also shows old science fiction movies and warns of our fate. Some of them gather during the night, still day lit, for a jam session on top of their hut.Another woman discusses how she rode through South America in a sewer pipe, then zips herself into a travel bag. Another man, a plumber, says his hands prove that he is descended from Aztec and Inca royalty. On the other hand, he admonishes the notion of adventure for conquer. Shackleton came not for the sake of adventure, but to claim the South Pole. He almost lampoons some of his subjects, but is never disrespectful and clearly admires all of them.

    The name of the film is something of a double entendre. Herzog frequently ponders another life after humans are gone. What would they think of us when they come see what we're doing in Antarctica? There are references to global warming and threats to our planet, but Herzog is no issue of the day crusader. So many other documentaries would condescend to us, and have. Green has become the fad of the day, annoying many instead of enlightening. Herzog is too much of an enigma to pander or preach to us, and that's part of the reason why Encounters at the End of the World is so special.

    Werner Herzog is a man incapable of making a dull film. What is entirely true in this documentary is questionable as it is in his others. His pursuit of ecstatic truth - semi-fictions to capture the essence of what is more truthful than truth - gives him license to embellish. But no matter, if he has some of his interviewees script some details, I do no care to know which. I'm happy being mesmerized by the stories they tell as is.

    For me, a Werner Herzog film is like pulling on a warm pair of slippers on a cold winter day, and pulling up by the fire to read a favorite book. Herzog was one of the first filmmakers to draw me into the world of great film-making, and for that I forever owe him a great debt of gratitude. And it was Roger Ebert who lead me to him, so how fitting that this beautiful film was dedicated to him.

  • Death in the Ice
    by tedg (tedg@filmsfolded.com) on 10 March 2011

    11 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

    There is no denying the man. He has already changed me, and others.

    Interestingly, it seems that this is less by design than by accidents that occur because he chooses to put his camera in places where the cosmos is unstable. Sometimes it rewards deeply, because we find our own window into beautiful chaos. Sometimes the experiments fail, and you can see how he has tried to distract us with observations from himself rather than the world he has placed us in.

    This is such a failure. He goes, enticed by the promise of cruel, unfathomable beauty. He finds no accident with inherent narrative, so he inserts his own. Unfortunately, Herzog the man and mind is the least interesting element of any Herzog film. I know I am in the minority here, because he has a celebrity persona.

    But watch this, and see how he interviews his subjects. He is trying to cast them as beautiful souls doomed be a part of the ugliness of humanity. Some of the interviews are staged or rehearsed. He admits this. I know the words are genuinely from the people who speak them, but the narrative is false. Herzog has this notion — this essentially Austrian notion — that nature is only full when it is cruel, stark and dangerous. Humanity is unnatural; only a few butterfly souls escape, and they are to be cherished.

    So look here: we have his usual Wagnerian chorus, using internationally fused sounds. We have some nature, always presented as cosmically unfriendly. We have episodes that underscore the hopeless weakness of society. And we have characters that engage and inspire. But it all seems so desperately constructed here. Whether he likes it or not, he has simply made a penguin film, but with humans.

    Ted's Evaluation -- 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.

  • Werner Herzog goes to Antarctica and shows us the people who live and work there
    by dbborroughs on 5 July 2008

    11 out of 14 people found the following review useful:

    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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