Werner Herzog dedicates his latest film, Encounters at the End of the World, to Roger Ebert — a film about Antarctica that is not another film about penguins. At one point, however, the question of whether insanity might exist in the penguin world is raised of a long-time penguin researcher. The answer? Footage, accompanied by Herzog’s voiceover, of a lone penguin heading not toward the sea nor the breeding grounds, but straight for the mountains and “to a certain death.”
All researchers on Antarctica must go through a two-day survival training before being left off the American military base. To simulate white-out blizzard conditions, they wear buckets on their heads as they attempt to “rescue” their trainer, gone missing in a trip to the outhouse.
The underwater footage is stunning, as it is amazing to imagine anything living in water that measures -2℃. Recordings of seals provide the soundtrack, described by one researcher as reminiscent of Pink Floyd.
Encounters at the End of the World, full of the markers of Herzog’s own cinematic code, gives a sense of besting David Attenborough at his own game. Herzog travels to a tremendous, alien place and examines its inhabitants with resplendent narration, twisting the trope of nature documentary, this time, by documenting the scientists.