Werner Herzog is a master filmmaker. Stretching back decades, genres, languages, styles and scope, he continues to be a pioneering creative force. Encounters at the End of the World is the newest reminder of his skill, and joins the growing list of ecologically/environmentally centered documentaries gracing us, the most famous being Davis Guggenheim/Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.
Herzog’s Encounters is a somewhat meandering trip to the Southernmost place on Earth, inspired by footage of Antarctica’s marine world taken by a friend of his. From the early images of crammed passengers on a cargo plane to the buckethead testing of what to do to get to the outhouse in a blinding blizzard to absolutely stunning footage of underwater life to a wayward penguin’s seemingly suicidal venturing into mountainous country, Herzog has fashioned together a commentary on life in one of our harshest environments and the quality and experience of what it is like. An ethereal, primal musical score accompanies the picture, which is narrated by Herzog, like his fabulous Grizzly Man, but more muted and ponderous.
But the film in not merely a Discovery Channel opportunity to remind us of the staggering beauty that rests so far away, so deep and unhospitable. Though the Discovery Channel produced or funded it, Herzog infuses, through interviews of people who find themselves shaken down to this vagabond paradise, a philosophical questing that appears both wonderfully progressive and positive, to his own harsh expression of human futility.