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      Encounters at the End of the World

      G Released Jun 11, 2008 1 hr. 39 min. Documentary List
      94% 111 Reviews Tomatometer 83% 25,000+ Ratings Audience Score Acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog travels to Antarctica, where he finds a desolate, beautiful landscape, largely untouched by human hands, and a group of truly unique people who risk their lives to study it. Centered at McMurdo Station, the United States' largest Antarctic research center, Herzog explores the minds of the scientists willing to abandon civilization and endure volatile conditions to learn more about the continent's wildlife and awe-inspiring natural wonders. Read More Read Less
      Encounters at the End of the World

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      Critics Consensus

      Encounters at the End of the World offers a poignant study of the human psyche amid haunting landscapes.

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      John A Full of striking images while Herzog's razor-sharp focus in his direction and narration makes it truly cinematic. Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars 11/09/23 Full Review Vincent R Speechless. Emotional. Herzog at his most straightforward, his most far reaching. Herzog has an unmistakable love affair with the human condition, no matter how awkward or inexplicable. A seemingly off question abut the existence of gay penguins is followed by an emotional narrative about a lone penguin marching inexplicably to its death deeper and deeper into a hostile landscape. The researchers have been told not to interfere - resorting to informing the researchers there that interfering will not be tolerated. This penguin, even if "rescued" and reunited with its pack as they seek out a food source, would stubbornly and bafflingly turn around and head right back to where it was headed - a certain and inglorious death in a landscape utterly hostile to life. How humanity can display the same exact kind of behavior is where Herzog settles. He doesn't revel in human oddities, but he isn't afraid to broach the subject. He is daring us to answer simple questions, knowing full well nobody can answer them. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 07/06/23 Full Review Emil T Although Antarctica takes center stage in the award-winning documentary feature film Encounters at the End of the World, the people that inhabit it are also uncovered, and how they exist within the most foreign borders on the planet. Legendary German filmmaker Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man) explores all aspects of life on the one continent without skyscrappers, Bluetooth, or a Starbucks, from the "fluffy penguins" and siren-esque seals, to the microscopic entities that link us with the very beginnings of life on Earth. But you'll be surprised with what Antarctica does have to offer, all vividly captured by determined cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger (Grizzly Man), who accompanies Herzog through all the brutality and the glory this isolated land conceals. The film crew--sponsored by the National Science Foundation--take up residence in the largest community on the frozen landscape that is Antarctica, the U.S.-run McMurdo Station, which has culminated into large garages, small warehouses, businesses, homes, and plenty of gas-guzzling trucks. Herzog, who also narrates, interviews some of the characters that make up McMurdo's tiny population (never more than 1,300), including mechanics, tradesmen, drivers, and all types of scientists. All are also explorers, and each one has a fascinating story to tell. But it's the elegance of the "frozen sky" below the town of McMurdo that captivates the audience. It's the hypnotic sounds that the native seals make in the frigid waters of the surrounding oceans. It's the enchanting ice cathedrals, the puzzling carriage of its wildlife, and it's the daunting extent of the land's reach. But most of all, Encounters intrigues us with just how fragile, yet how essential Antarctica really is to the rest of us, in a time when global warming is a global issue. Henry Kaiser and David Lindley's indelible score is haunting, leaving me unsettled, but in a good way; perhaps a similar feeling of the secluded residents of this last Earthly frontier. In the words of Herzog himself, "Antarctica is not the moon, even though sometimes it feels like it." That pretty much sums it up. *This review was originally written in 2009. Rated 4 out of 5 stars 02/06/21 Full Review Audience Member This film made me feel like I was part of this whole experience, from the beginning to the end. I would describe the style of recording as raw; there are different angles and shakiness that the scenes are recorded on which made me feel like I was part of what was happening at those moments. It is important to mention that the documentary is not fully built upon these less professional takes. This documentary includes some of the most amazing videos of wildlife that I have seen in my life. Seeing a seal dive deep into the darkness of the ocean, while hearing their alien-like sounds that sound like they are out of this world. The underwater recordings give the viewer a more in-depth perspective of the lives of the sea creatures and the sounds that they are accompanied by will leave you in awe such as the starfish that look like spiders crawling on the sea bed. The sounds and music that accompany the documentary as well as the commentary on top just create these fascinating views. These are possibly the three things that I love the most about the documentary. There are certain parts that will just make you feel like you are in the film, and that is what I love the most about it. It takes you to a different place, and during these times of lockdown and staying at home, this film might be what a lot of us need. The only reason why I am not giving this documentary 5/5 stars is that the commentary can sometimes be a little boring because of Herzog's voice tone and the longitude of the takes. There are only a couple of these shots that just seemed to last forever. Although I have to say that they were accompanied by music and very beautiful shots, to me they were just too long and I would catch myself spacing out and just asking the film to move on to the penguins. Overall, I have to say that this is a great documentary. I say it's great because Herzog made the best of what he had available. There are times when the film can move very slowly and can result in boredom. But these very few cases really don't take away the essence of this amazing work. It was insightful, fun, and easy to follow, which makes it great for all audiences. I think the people that would enjoy this film the most are the very passionate nature lovers and kids, they will enjoy the videos and sounds that these creatures have to offer, as well as be engaged and interested in the ways of life of these other interesting and smart creatures we call humans. Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars 01/21/23 Full Review Audience Member March of the BucketHeads: Review of "Encounters at the End of the World" Filmmaker Werner Herzog establishes very early on that he was not interested in making just another film about penguins, though that is the typical subject of interest for consumers and documentarians when we think about that chunk of ice at the bottom of the world that is Antarctica. Herzog, rather, had a myriad of questions about the nature of living things such as why ants are able to farm lower lifeforms for sustenance, but highly advanced primates do not run off into the sunset on the backs of donkeys.The relatively absurd imagery set a tone for the documentary as an exploration of the ridiculous, and established humorous undertones for the production as a whole. They were questions that seemed irrelevant in the context of what it largely considered to be a desolate arctic desert, but instead were instrumentally guiding principles in what became an undeniably beautiful exploration on the unity and diversity within not just the people of McMurdo, our homebase of the documentary, but of humanity and natural life as a whole. His questions later focus on the inhabitants of the land and how they found themselves at the end of the Earth. Over a series of interviews, we are treated to some refreshingly honest depictions of individuals who, more often than not, express some notion of having "fallen off the edge" of the world and from conventional society. Amid these individuals was a computer expert, linguist, and philosopher. In most contexts you would expect that to be three people, but in this documentary, one individual having three titles of expertise was more commonplace than the alternative. The collection of all these individuals' experiences evolved further what was at its core a documentary bursting with otherworldly scenery, sounds, and stories. The interaction between human narratives and nature guided what became a contribution to a discourse much older than the documentary itself. This discourse being the positive and negative impact we have on our surroundings, the fate of us, and the regulatory force that nature acts as in response to our actions. Every interview was beautifully and empathetically conducted, and all those that were chosen to participate in the film shared stories that left me either laughing, thoughtful, somber, or just generally intrigued about these enigmatic strangers we were getting to meet. Herzog's Opera Directing background was massively peacocking (in a good way, I was very into it) throughout the visionary and auditory masterpiece that was ‘Encounters at the End of the World.' The music direction and on-sight audio recordings provided an element of presence and feeling of being there. Herzog insured that anything he had experienced was something we would also experience. For better or for worse we were along for the entire sensorial experience. Herzog had to hear awful, discordant sounds of construction? We too get dedicated minutes to experience it as well. On the flip side,when he shared with us Antarctica's version of "Pink Floyd," we could almost feel the ice against our cheeks while watching the scientists listen alongside us. The musical and sound directions were immaculate to say the least. I found myself lost in it. Now, to say the most would be to additionally applaud Herzog on his narration throughout. We so often are used to the welcoming and damn near dulcet tones of a Sir David Attenborough, or Benedict Cumberbatch, but rarely are we treated to an unabashedly sassy narrator who expresses sarcasm and wit and a sardonic humor that matches the general sentiments of all the inhabitants of the icy terrain. With regard to developing the tone of the documentary, the narration was really a highlight for me. In this alien world that feels so separate from what is conventional for the audience (a world that might as well have been manufactured to kill us in every way imaginable) there is a remarkable humor in the residents that is both unexpected and somehow completely natural. Just as well, there's nothing worse than a narrator that doesn't know when to quit and a director that doesn't respect the power of silence. Herzog is neither of those things. The world he creates for us is powerful and (I say this as an atheist) near to god, but somehow uncondractorally a reflection of what makes us so human. We have humor, joy, art, despair, trauma, and beauty within us even at the end of the world. Maybe even more so at the end of the world? The contradictions are familiar and as old as mankind, and they demand the audience to wax on all the philosophy of it. Just as Herzog and those who explore the land contain in them both humor and pain, so does the land they inhabit have a wealth of dangers and an air of mystery that demands solving. It is the interweaving of this human desire to endure for the sake of exploration and discovery but to maintain levity and joy despite danger that anchors this documentary and that left me thinking on my own participation in these patterns of exploration at the expense of myself. Very introspective. All this being said, there was never a question as to whether the human interviews upstaged the film of what inhuman life lay above and below the ice. The reverence to natural life was unmistakable, and the lack of emphasis on the documentarians reactions to everything, except in brief narration (none of which was done during many of the nature footage scenes) culminated to create a world of art that blended humanity into nature in a way that put nature on a pedestal and blent humanity into a "facet of" rather than in contrast to that nature. Overall, a beautiful journey from start to finish and Herzog went above and beyond to even gift us penguin lovers with some penguin content!! Albeit it is probably not a depiction that most ‘March of the Penguins' fans may appreciate or have the stomach for. Overall, If you're anything like me, you'll experience an unforgettable rainbow of emotion and be left with a new lens on society in the aftermath. Rated 5 out of 5 stars 01/13/23 Full Review Audience Member Encounters at the End of the World is a nature documentary made by renowned director Werner Herzog. Herzog is a famously eccentric filmmaker with a long track record of notable movies and documentaries, often dealing with intense characters dealing with powerful forces, either natural or man-made. In this documentary he aims to present an in-depth view of Antarctica and the people that it attracts. At first one could be forgiven for thinking that this would be a standard nature documentary like many the audience will have seen before with it's opening featuring dramatic shots of nature, followed by a more focused segment on the military plane to the destination. However the hapless nature of the camera in this shot with the seemingly random, yet surprisingly sincere, close-ups tells you that this movie may be different. Although nothing in the documentary necessarily breaks any new ground as it is a collection of shots of nature interwoven with interviews with those most closely acquainted with what you see. It undeniably does enter an arena not previously entered by your standard nature documentaries with methods of filming that just feel off as shots last a few seconds longer than they should, with unusual direction and the intensity of the interviews throughout disarming the audience. If the audience had any doubts about the normality of the documentary they are quickly exposed to arguably the most memorable part of the documentary, Herzog's voice-over. Herzog serves as an unusual tour-guide for Antarctica as he would be for any place. He does his job well though as he seems to be able to maintain the traditional role of the documentary maker, his conversations with the scientists demonstrate that he can seriously address the standard requirements of a nature documentary. Yet throughout the documentary it always feels that he is innately detached yet incredibly invested in this strange world he has placed himself in. The most striking moments for me were the parts filmed under ice. The most alien, impossible-yet-real creatures one could possibly imagine are given a full inspection by the camera. In the main shot of this Herzog elects for epic, wailing Bulgarain folk music to be the backdrop for this. Although not the focus of the piece, there is undoubtedly an environmental theme throughout the documentary with the daunting beauty of the nature surrounding the movie being the primary focus. The extreme biodiversity is apparent and although never explicitly stated it does feel that when Herzog shows us this, with what feels like the most powerful soundtrack he can muster, he is showing how grateful he is that this exists and how much he longs for it to be preserved. Herzog's endearing nature not only draws the audience but you can tell that those being interviewed wouldn't be so forthright with their lives and stories if he was not the one interviewing him. Those being interviewed seem to understand that here is a fellow maverick, a fellow outsider, who may just be able to understand the incredibly unique people who end up on this barren continent. One could select and focus on any of the strange cast of characters presented by Herzog. There is Stefan Pashov, introduced as ‘Philosopher and Forklift driver', the man in charge of the greenhouse is introduced as ‘William Jirsa, Linguist and Computer Expert' and his interview centres around his linguistic career while his current occupation is never addressed. He seems to acknowledge the absurdity of his placement here when he says he is "a linguist on a continent with no languages". This documentary does not seem concerned with minor details. It seems to be searching for something deeper, trying to get right up against the aspects of humanity that bring people to Antarctica. To call this film moving is tough, many who watch it will likely be shocked into a stupor by its strangeness. Yet this movie has the power to move one to tears. In one portion Herzog interviews a utility mechanic about the packs people carry. It can be seen that the mechanic thought this would just be a standard interview with a documentary maker looking to learn. But he isn't ready for Herzog. He opens with a question relating to the mechanic's past life behind the Iron Curtain, asking him about his escape. The mechanic is shocked into a speechless state and a deeply personal but still endearing moment is displayed, although nothing is said the hardship is instantly apparent. Herzog understands and saves the conversation by saying "the best description of freedom is what you have in front of you" and the mechanic taking this lead happily moves onto explaining the bags in front of him. The interview carries on as normal but the audience will only be able to think about the power of it's opening. Once again Herzog has been able to easily pull back the thin veneer that people cover themselves with and expose the true humanity that lies underneath. Displays of extreme humanity like this juxtaposed by arguably the most alien, unlivable environment our planet can offer produce a unique sensation that can undoubtedly be described as moving. Verdict: 9 out of 10 stars. A moving documentary that will sit with you for far longer than you think a documentary about Antarctica should. The usually distinct line between nature and the artificial ways of humans is blurred by the shockingly bizarre landscape with it's alien natural inhabitants and the immense humanity displayed by it's cast of varied characters. It all combines to produce a resounding, deeply moving and, at times, an overwhelming experience. Rated 4.5 out of 5 stars 01/27/23 Full Review Read all reviews Post a rating

      Cast & Crew

      Critics Reviews

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      Ty Burr Boston Globe Rated: 3/4 Nov 24, 2011 Full Review Ben Kenigsberg Time Out Rated: 4/5 Nov 16, 2011 Full Review David Fear Time Out Rated: 4/5 Nov 16, 2011 Full Review Dennis Harvey 48 Hills [An[ extraordinary Antarctica sojourn... Nov 10, 2023 Full Review Brian Eggert Deep Focus Review An exceptionally beautiful and thoughtful documentary. Rated: 4/4 Apr 4, 2022 Full Review Mattie Lucas From the Front Row A minor miracle of a movie, one that dares, even for an instant, to reach out and touch the face of god. Rated: 3.5/4 Jul 7, 2019 Full Review Read all reviews

      Movie Info

      Synopsis Acclaimed filmmaker Werner Herzog travels to Antarctica, where he finds a desolate, beautiful landscape, largely untouched by human hands, and a group of truly unique people who risk their lives to study it. Centered at McMurdo Station, the United States' largest Antarctic research center, Herzog explores the minds of the scientists willing to abandon civilization and endure volatile conditions to learn more about the continent's wildlife and awe-inspiring natural wonders.
      Director
      Werner Herzog
      Executive Producer
      Erik Nelson, Dave Harding, Phil Fairclough, Julian P. Hobbs
      Screenwriter
      Werner Herzog
      Distributor
      ThinkFilm
      Production Co
      Creative Differences, Discovery Films
      Rating
      G
      Genre
      Documentary
      Original Language
      English
      Release Date (Theaters)
      Jun 11, 2008, Limited
      Release Date (Streaming)
      Jan 26, 2015
      Box Office (Gross USA)
      $943.9K