Encounters at the End of the World
Just about anywhere Werner Herzog goes becomes an interesting place, in part because the director shapes it with his distinctively sardonic eye. In Encounters at the End of the World, the ‘Zog heads off to Antarctica, finding there a population of unusual people, hallucinatory underwater life, and penguins.
He doesn’t appear on camera, but the unmistakably Teutonic Herzog voice is very much with us all the time, a baleful tour guide for this blank destination. In the human outposts of Antarctica, Herzog finds the kind of people you might expect would gravitate to the edge of existence–the curious, the oddball, the wanderers who’ve run out of other places to explore.
He finds some deadpan hilarity, especially in filming a communication drill involving people practicing blizzard conditions (they wear buckets over their heads while roped together). The underwater photography (a realm previously explored in Herzog’s The Wild Blue Yonder) is by Henry Kaiser, and it meshes perfectly with the director’s interest in alien eye-scapes. And when Herzog finally does find penguins, his imagination goes to the idea that some penguins go insane, scurrying off into their own suicidal directions. This isn’t as arresting a film as Grizzly Man, but it is an entertaining travelogue spiked with quirky observations.