Customer Reviews: Encounters at the End of the World
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on October 27, 2008
What the current Amazon listing does not explicitly mention is the wealth of DVD EXTRAS that accompany the 100 minute feature in this 2-DVD set.


+ a hidden "Easter Egg" extra: SEAL MEN, an Antarctic Parody of Herzog's GRIZZLY MAN, with weddell seals replacing grizzly bears

to access this Easter Egg:
on page 2 of the extras
highlight the exorcism extra
then move the cursor to the right
and the highlight will disappear
then press enter
this will open the secret and hidden easter egg extra: SEAL MEN

all and all this is over 3 hours of EXTRAS!
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on August 6, 2009
This film is as much about the people who reside and work in Antarctica as it is about the work they are doing there. A bus driver, a mechanic, and others with stated and unstated occupations are featured doing art in their room, playing guitar, watching a black and white sci-fi film, and standing outside of a piece of construction equipment. The philosopher standing outside of his construction vehicle was very moving, it was almost as if he was getting choked up describing Antarctica and philosophy. He was my favorite character in the film.

Several scientists are also followed in their work, including a couple of volcanologists, a cell biologist, a penguin scientist (Dr. David Ainley), a particle astrophysicist (Dr. Peter Gorhan), and more including divers. Their work is interesting but several awkward moments are allowed to film, but that is the filmmakers style, not indicative of bad editing.

The sheer beauty of Antarctica does not come across as well as in other films I have seen, but I did find this one to be the most realistic films of life in Antarctica. The filmmaker stated he was not going to Antarctica to "make another penguin film".

The underwater scenes are quite fascinating and beautiful. They were the primary reason I sought out this film and they are the best parts. Russian Orthodox music is infused with the glorious underwater sea life, creating a memorable moment in film that you may never forget.
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on March 31, 2015
A good introduction to the researchers and support workers who make the US Antarctic Program work. The emphasis of the docu-movie is on McMurdo station. There is a short trip to South Pole station but not as much detail is provided compared to McMurdo and its environs. No material is provided for the other US station on the peninsula - Palmer station.
I was at McMurdo when Herzog filmed/recorded this movie. While I am not featured I do know most of the those featured to some extent or more. I found his treatment honest. I would have been nice to have discuss some of the controversies existing in Antarctica and the various national programs but that would have required a docu-series.
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on March 6, 2009
Since other reviewers have adequately summarized this film, I'll skip straight to what I thought were the best and worst qualities of "Encounters":


- The filming itself is brilliant, as you'd expect from Herzog. The contrast beetween the spellbinding landscape and the banal living quarters of its inhabitants is striking.

- The interviews provide terrific insight into the passion and curiousity that is necessary to subject oneself to living, even temporarily, in the most inhospitable land on the planet.

- The footage of the Antarctic Ocean floor is truly otherwordly. The creatures beneath the "frozen sky" are beyond even the most imaginative science fiction writers.

- There are approximately three hours of extra footage contained in the extra features on disc one and disc two, including segments of footage taken above and below the frozen surface. There is also a 90 minute interview of Werner Herzog conducted by acclaimed director Jonathan Demme, which is very interesting and, for me, worth the price of admission.


- The film's interviews are often laden with scientific jargon that I suspect will alienate a general audience. I found the content of the interviews fascinating, albeit completely over my head.

- As other reviewers have noted, the interviews with the so-called "commoners" that were not in Antarctica for scientific study were too short. I felt that insufficient time was spent on telling their stories.

- While many of Herzog's observations and contemplations are fascinating, they never seem to connect to a larger theme or thesis. This lack of intellectual focus makes the landscape itself the focus of the film, and ultimately overwhelms Herzog's encounters that gave this film its name. I believe Herzog's intent was for these encounters to leave an impression on his audience, but it failed to do so for me. Perhaps if the contents of the interviews had built off of one another and arrived at a larger lesson or thought, something other than the landscape shots would have stuck with me.

Overall, I found the film to be inexcusably unfocused, leaving little else other than the setting to be admired. Herzog has done better than this. I call this film surreal, rather than poignant, as so many of his films have been. In any case, I have high hopes for his next project.
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on February 7, 2014
I was already a Herzog fan after having seen "Grizzly Man" and "Cave of Forgotten Dreams", so I eagerly heeded a friend's recommendation to watch "Encounters". Although I found that Encounters was, in a sense, different from the other two Herzog films I'd seen previously, it nonetheless proved to be an experience that had me singularly focused upon the screen for the entire duration of the movie.

I want to be clear that this is a film which pulls together something of a mish-mash of Herzog's experiences and thoughts about the South Pole: stories of people, excursions into scientific research and intriguing philosophical insights. Some of those who disliked the film complained that it "lacked a unified theme", but I think they've missed the point. "Encounters", by design, is an odyssey without a destination. It paints a riveting and diverse picture of the South Pole as an otherworldly place of disjointed oddities... truly a collection vignettes which are unified only by the fact that they grow out of this desolate and beautiful continent.

Another complaint I've seen is that the film fails to serve as a call to action for tackling the issue of global warming. In an era when polar ice is melting faster than at any other time in human history, I suppose that I can understand why some folks might be disappointed that Herzog didn't leverage his fame and skill to make a film which would highlight and condemn global warming. As someone who is deeply concerned about the condition of our environment, I am sympathetic to their opinion. Still though, I feel like they're overlooking the simple fact that Herzog's brand of art is simply not preoccupied with environmentalism. Herzog's "Encounters" is not a plea to save the future... in fact, it's the exact opposite in a certain sense. Like many researchers in the film, Herzog is resigned to the notion that humanity is ultimately doomed in one way or another, so this film precludes the idea of saving anything or reversing global warming. Instead, Herzog explores a more immediate and momentary "world of now". In a sense, he asks us," What if we knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that humanity was doomed? How and where would we find beauty in the face of such destruction? Where would we find the profound? What is the meaning, if any, in a world that will surely end?" That makes for a sublime exploration of this unusual part of the world, even if it means that he mostly ignores the issue of whether or not it matters that we save the ice caps.

This film is a documentary, but not a documentary in the sense that you come away having learned something scholarly. It is an artistic exploration of the South Pole... one that seeks out more than just banal facts. Herzog decided not to make a piece that centered upon environmental activism, and I think he did so with insight and mastery. For sure, his unique brand of stoicism and pessimism paints a picture of the South Pole that is bleak. But in doing so, he skillfully invites you to find beauty in spite of ugliness... hope in spite of hopelessness... and some hazy, yet profound, truth about humanity in one of the most desolate places on earth.
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on October 11, 2008
I am a big fan of Herr Zog. But while "Encounters" provided me with an overall positive experience, it is a flawed film. First, the good news. Hearing the inorganically musical underwater vocalizations of Weddell seals through the theater's multichannel speaker system was alone worth the price of admission. One of the scientists studying the pinnipeds aptly describes their varied and otherworldly sounds as Pink Floydian. I am also pleased to have beheld extended footage of the magnificent world beneath the sea ice. It is a teeming environment whose surface we are only beginning to scratch, and I cannot blame Herzog for choosing choral background music that perhaps screams "awe" a bit too loudly; there is no danger of it cheapening the majesty of the frozen stalactites or the splendor of the sunlight dispersing through the ice-ceiling. Lastly, I'll note the humor, usually intentional, that Herzog uncharacteristically displays. His Teutonic deadpan is not his only comedic asset; he has a keen sense of the ridiculous, and ample targets among the many dubious denizens of the Antarctic.

My complaints are essentially twofold. First, the movie is disjointed. It is a hodgepodge of Herzog's encounters with various Antarctic researchers and residents; there is no apparent order or theme. This is a minor criticism, as most of the segments make for fine viewing on their own, but it would have been more satisfying if Herzog had presented a unifying thesis or two about the Light Continent (aside from the oft-repeated observation that it is populated by a fair number of "professional dreamers"). He should have at least arranged the segments in a clearly meaningful sequence. At its best, the film made no more of an impression on me than "that was beautiful," "that was cool," or "I didn't know that." Second, and more significantly, Herzog's narration is at times irritating. As someone who has studied climate change, I share his frustration and pessimism. But there is no call for saddling the film's final moments with apocalyptic platitudes (e.g., "the end of human life is assured") and a cursory reference to global warming. These sentiments are incongruous with the rest of the film, which does not substantially address environmentalism and whose most haunting scene is of a mad penguin that abandons its flock and runs inland towards distant mountains, to certain death, with a singular determination. Herzog's doomsayings, in any event, are better communicated by the satellite images of rapidly melting polar ice that we observe on a climatologist's computer screen. I know that Herzog is capable of more thoughtful reflections on the impersonal and uncontrollable power of nature; for example, from "Grizzly Man": "what haunts me is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food. But for Timothy Treadwell, this bear was a friend, a savior." In "Encounters," Herzog superficially and self-indulgently overstates his case. I'm looking forward to his next film.
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on June 5, 2014
Werner Herzog has a fascinating way of pulling beauty out of what seems to be the end of the world. The “End of the World” that he presents not only describes the bizarre place on the bottom of the globe, but also the end of humanity as we know it. Needless to say, “Encounters at the End of the World” is not your typical documentary. Herzog journeys to the South Pole in what he assures is not another film in search of fluffy penguins, but is a dream-like illustration of the strange lives of the humans and creatures that inhabit and dwell in such a harsh and remote environment as Antarctica.
Herzog has come to McMurdo Station, which is the largest habitation in Antarctica, for a summer of eternal light. He arrived here after being drawn in by astounding underwater images captured by his friend Henry Kaiser, who happens to be an expert diver. He sets out to discover who the people are that live in such a place, and what it is that brought them. He encounters a slew of odd individuals in this small population. Upon arrival he meets a banker from Colorado who has left his life behind in search for more meaning beyond monetary value and a philosopher who has an utter fascination with the world and has had a desire for adventure since he was a child. He goes on to meet scientists of various disciplines from a cell biologist who views the microscopic world under the ice as being over-run by horrific sci-fi creatures, to nutritional ecologists and physiologists who spend their days on the open ice studying seals while listening to their electronic-like calls passing underneath them; what one scientist compares to Pink Floyd. Herzog encounters a woman who has traveled through South America in a sewer pipe, who now performs odd stunts at one of the bars in the town. All the while there is vivid and strong imagery that you are surely not to forget. From the eerie spider-like sea creatures that creep and scurry along the ocean floor under shelves of ice, to the center of a volcano where we learn the etiquette of dealing with the blasts, to footage taken underneath the eternal ice and exact South Pole where shrines are left for travelers in the future to come across and ponder about once the rest of humanity is lost.
From the very beginning of the film it is easy to tell that this is very much Herzog’s story of Antarctica and the people within it. If it were any other documentary about Antarctica it would be overwhelmed with the threat of global warming and what consequences it holds for humanity, or overwhelmed with an abundance of footage of penguins and polar bears. However, there are penguins in some footage, but shown in a much different way than ordinary. Herzog converses with an isolated and timid penguin researcher, who much prefers being around penguins than conversing with humans, and he persists on asking if insanity and homosexuality exist amongst the penguins. I doubt that anyone else would think of doing that. He narrates his thoughts and feelings throughout and remains strangely honest and true to himself.
Herzog has a peculiar way of interacting with the people that he interviews, as well as a unique way of displaying them. He shows tid-bits of their separate lives and characteristics and converses informally, just as if he were on a vacation with them. Herzog shows the great lengths that they all have gone to escape the dull and ordinary. He shows these strange people in a light that emphasizes their unique individual characteristics that prove to be very memorable to the audience; no character is like the other. Even though the film has a sort of gloomy feeling that is often expressed through the characters that he interviews, he seems to make a point that they all have found some form of peace at the end of the world. In one scene a philosopher points out that all of the inhabitants are “full time travelers, part time workers, and professional dreamers.” The philosopher then goes on to explain that Antarctica works as a form of natural selection for the people that have the intention to jump of the map, and they all meet where the lines intersect at the end of the world. Herzog also suggests that they all agree that the end of human life is assured.
Herzog allows us to journey through time and space, and shows us what we may end up leaving behind. We experience the microscopic findings of what very well could have be the origins of life and what drove us to evolve, to neutrinos that hold together the universe. There is an otherworldly feel that remains consistent. The film nudges at the idea of the end of humanity but does so in way that leaves you at ease with it. This is partially due to the outstanding cinematography and strong music that effectively pull together all of the emotions throughout the film. There are many scenes where the images and sounds do all of the work and emphasize the oddness and beauty of this strange world.
This documentary is very much a work of art. If you are looking for something informational that tells you how to think, I suggest you look elsewhere. This film successfully stretches the mind out of the ordinary and leaves you to your own thoughts and wonders about life and death and the continued universe in between. Herzog has an extremely artistic eye that shows forms of beauty in a very different light, that most would not observe and leave you feeling as if you are part of a much larger picture.
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on April 9, 2016
A fascinating film, but if you don't go into it with a very loose, artistic mindset you will probably be frustrated by the almost complete lack of direction. The film is a collection of little scenes that, on their own, have value, but all together come to a hodgepodge with no point. In an attempt to find a point, I found myself paying more attention to Herzog's narration than I did to what he was filming, which ended up being a very bad idea because his narration at times seems just as meandering and self contradicting. In one scene he bemoans the "sick" human obsession with placing animals above humans in importance ("tree huggers and whale huggers, but no one cares about an entire language dying out.") This gives one the impression of a humanist, of someone going against the modern anti-human grain, and yet the rest of the film is the usual environmentalist whining about the human "stain" on the landscape (as if every a human settlement has to be aesthetically "pretty" or built into the natural surroundings in a manner that, at the end, is entirely unnatural).

At one point, he refers to the existence of a bowling alley and yoga classes at the settlement as an "abomination" that he "wanted to get away from." Why? Are humans at the bottom of the world expected to stop being human? Isn't he there for the expressed purpose of recording HUMANS in Antarctica? As I said, meandering and contradicting. The sequences near the end about climate change and a possible future in which "alien archaeologist" study the last desperate remnants of a dead species are so over-emotive and irrational they sound like readings of Revelations in an evangelical church; fire and brimstone, pain and misery, sin and punishment.

In spite of all this, the film is worth seeing if only to see how real the humanity is in such places. We, the layman public, are often fed a very clean-cut NASAesque image of what life is like for researchers (and workers, yes!) in these far flung places.
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on December 30, 2012
I'm in the minority, but I'm not fond of this documentary. I found that the music was annoying and over-dramatic to the point where the soundtrack drowned out what was going on film. It felt a lot like he picked random, ethereal music to play during some scenes. He cut off interviewees so that he could paraphrase what they were saying. Often, the camera would awkwardly linger on an interviewee for so long, that they would make a random noise or action just to fill the gap. And, to be quite honest, I don't appreciate his sardonic narration. The bit about the Guinness world book of records was out of place, and his statement about how modern polar exploration is somehow seemingly 'fake' compared to the old-time polar explorers is completely false. He's obviously never picked up a history book. It's fun to glorify people in history... but humanity (and their motivations) really haven't changed that much over the years.

That said, without his annoying narration and little 'philosophical moments' (gay penguins, why cowboys wear masks, and why chimpanzees don't ride antelopes) there are some really cool moments. The scenes following the scientists are quite fascinating to watch, and for someone who's not familiar with McMurdo, I think seeing what the base looks like would be a real treat.

The film had no focus, and to put it bluntly, had amateurish editing.
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on April 18, 2013
This is a charming documentary about the wondrous beauty of Antarctica and the quirky people who do research and other work there. Of the several other documentary films of Werner Herzog's I've enjoyed (The White Diamond, Grizzly Man, and Cave of Forgotten Dreams) this is my favorite - consistently entertaining, humorous, poignant, and starkly and pristinely beautiful, along with an interesting sound track by Henry Kaiser and David Lindley. This soundtrack includes some great playing by Kaiser and Lindley (both electric and acoustic) as well as contributions from the local Weddell seals (who communicate in an other-worldly, analogue synthesizer sounding way), and various musicians (similar sounding to the Herzog soundtrack Requiem for a Dying Planet) with what sounds like Norwegian Hardanger fiddle, Malagasy guitar, cello, Bulgarian Throat Singers, Russian Basso Profondo, and other choral arrangements.

The film is (surprisingly for me) produced by Henry Kaiser, and the highlight is some of his underwater photography.

My only complaint is that the soundtrack isn't separately available...
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