Screened as part of NZIFF 2009
Muttering that ‘another film about penguins’ is the last thing anyone needs, Werner Herzog, cinema’s most eccentric anthropologist accepts an invitation from the US National Science Foundation to film in the Antarctic. Perennially fascinated by those who place themselves at the front of humanity’s ‘struggle’ with nature, the director of Grizzly Man and Fitzcarraldo hounds scientists and others who live at the US scientific base to get at the reasons why they chose to remove themselves to the uninhabitable end of the world. He flushes out enough poets and high-IQ obsessives to populate a whole series of documentaries: PhD’s washing dishes, linguists on a continent with no language, a cell biologist who’s an expert on 50s sci-fi disaster movies.
Herzog’s style is entertainingly discursive and he’s a hilariously irascible guide, excoriating the conquest mentality of Robert Falcon Scott and the presence of ATMs and Frosty Boy ice-cream dispensers at McMurdo with equal passion. In an era that’s not short of breathtaking underwater cinematography, this film has the most astounding. There’s also a memorably bizarre lesson in snow-blinded navigation and despite his sworn intent, we do encounter the one penguin in the world most ideally equipped to appear in a Herzog film. And then there’s the landscape, as beautiful and full of foreboding as you have ever seen it. — BG
“Offers one arresting visual marvel after another and should render contrite all who say there is nothing left for movies to show us that we haven’t seen before.” — Scott Foundas, Variety