Encounters at the End of the WorldWritten and directed by Werner HerzogRated GGoes well with: Wild Blue Yonder, The White Diamond, anything about Ernest Shackleton
There is no hall of fame for the movies. Rock 'n' roll has one. So does baseball. Hell, there's even a Robot Hall of Fame. But there is no such thing for the movies. If there were, though, Werner Herzog would have been inducted long ago. The idiosyncratic German director has made more than 50 movies in the last four decades, including such classics with Klaus Kinski as Aguirre, Nosferatu and Fitzcarraldo and such recent high-profile releases as the 2005 documentary Grizzly Man and last year's Rescue Dawn.
So the guy's prolific. In fact, with his latest film, Encounters at the End of the World, he has become the only professional director to have made films on all seven continents. He accomplished the feat by going somewhere entirely unlike, well, everywhere else: Antarctica. Invited to visit the globe's nethermost region by the National Science Foundation, Herzog went there for seven weeks, armed with a camera and no real idea about how things would go. Still, he tells CityBeat, he wasn't worried.
“I had to figure out on the fly, to tell you the truth,” says Herzog, in the same clipped, distinctive accent with which he narrates this and his other documentaries. “But it didn't scare me at all. I know that I am a storyteller, and I rely on my gift as a storyteller and as a traveler. I went down without great expectations, but with a huge amount of curiosity and enthusiasm. Finally, I thought, I can make it down there. It turned out absolutely as I had hoped. It's a wonderful place and the most incredible human beings are down there, people of great substance.”
He's right, though the denizens of the McMurdo research station, which serves as the home base for Herzog and most of the continent's other inhabitants, are exactly the sort of off-kilter people you might expect to meet in Antarctica.
The guy who washes the dishes is a retired judge. The forklift driver has a philosophy degree. Out in the field, there's a garish vulcanologist who dresses like Dr. Who and a taciturn penguin expert who can barely hold a conversation.
What emerges is a sense that some of these people end up in Antarctica because there was nowhere else for them to go. But the end of the world is a very accepting place, and Herzog fits in perfectly.
Maybe that's why he's so comfortable going back and forth from feature films—with full crews and scripts—and documentaries. “For me, it is all movies,” he says. “I don't make a distinction between feature films and documentaries. My documentaries have a lot of elements of feature films in them, including Encounters, which all of a sudden steps into science fiction.”
He's talking about what you see when the movie leaves the confines of McMurdo, something Herzog is eager to do as soon as he arrives. Because, let's face it, Antarctica isn't just people. In fact, it's barely people. The most interesting parts of the film come when Herzog brings into perspective the enormity of the landscapes, the icebergs, the volcano, and the almost entirely alien life forms that make up Antarctica.
The director says his favorite part of the film is the footage shot more than 10 feet below the ice. “That's pure,” says Herzog. “You cannot get deeper into pure science fiction than diving under the ice. That's beyond our experience and our visions and beyond anything I have ever seen.”
The images are absolutely amazing—creatures that are entirely unfamiliar and alien, truly like something found on another planet in a big-budget Hollywood movie. But this is real life, and, Herzog says, finding all that beauty on this desolate part of the planet is what his entire career has been about.
“In a way, the film sums up a lot of what I have done before, with music, with landscapes, with human beings,” he says. “I made all my films, traveling around, having fallen in love with the world.”