See Encounters at the End of the World. Let me get that out of the way, right at the top.
It is an arrestingly beautiful, strange and serious, pleasingly quirky film written, directed and narrated by that strange and serious, pleasingly quirky fellow, Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, among others).
Photography like this inspired Herzog to shootEncounters at the End of the World
The story chronicles Herzog's trip to Antarctica, where he filmed the scientists working at remote and icy outposts geologists on an active volcano, glaciologists on icebergs the size of continents, microbiologists diving under a ceiling of ice. Herzog's budget came from the National Science Foundation, but he tells the audience up front that he isn't interested in another penguin movie; at one point he even wonders why society indulges "tree-huggers" trying to save wildlife, but not those who try to save humanity's disappearing cultures.
Did the National Science Foundation, perhaps the most respected and sought-after maker of grants for scientific research, get its money's worth?
Penguins do appear, but it is the unforgettable madness that sends one penguin waddling to sure death in the icy interior, while his comrades incubate eggs or hunt for food, that gets Herzog's focus. That's fitting, because it is less the science than the motivation behind those who practice it that captivates Herzog. It is the interior landscapes of those he interviews, as much as the strange and wonderful landscape above and below the ice, that interests Herzog.
As such, featured with equal weight as the scientists, are the bus drivers, welders, plumbers and greenhouse growers who make the McMurdo Naval camp and its outposts on the moonscape of the ice shelf inhabitable. They describe the paths they've traveled to reach the most remote continent on Earth (one from behind the Iron Curtain, another via sewer pipe, several by way of grad school), their strange passions and, in Herzog's hands, their humanity. He's the scientist and they the subject, but his eye isn't objective. He mercifully cuts short long-winding tales with a curt verbal shorthand, for instance, and indulges in the occasional strange tangents (why don't chimpanzees ride goats?)
McMurdo Naval Base
You don't have to ever have wondered what motivates scientists, or world travelers who seek out the most remote and hard-to-reach spots. (Try the cargo hold of a military cargo plane.) You don't have to be mesmerized by the unearthly sounds that seals under the ice. (One scientist nails the description: "Pink Floyd"). You don't have to be particularly interested in the sorry state of the environment. (Herzog only mentions it occasionally in an off-hand "the end is near" summary.)
You just have to be interested in how this distinctive filmmaker illuminates what makes people people.
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