PUBLISHED: 5:22 PM on Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Society at the 'End of the Earth'
"Encounters at the End of the Earth" explores the part of Antarctica that documentaries such as "March of the Penguins" largely overlook: the motivations and quirks of the men and women who choose to live in the most inhospitable place on earth.

"Encounters" is the latest film by Werner Herzog, perhaps best known to Alaskans for his exploration of the life of Timothy Treadwell in "Grizzly Man."

  courtesy of THINKFilm
Herzog was invited by the National Science Foundation to the McMurdo research station, which is home to around 1100 researchers and support crew during the austral summer.

Herzog interviews researchers, but he also talks to a banker turned bus driver, a linguist-computer expert in a place with no native languages, and a filmmaker-cook, among others.

Herzog had only one crew member on site with him, cinematographer Peter Zeitlinger.

It would be hard to tell the story of humans at McMurdo without showcasing the environment that attracted them. Stunning sequences reveal the "cathedral" of the the underwater world beneath ice, the rim of an active volcano, the eerie sounds of seals, and yes, even penguins - though Herzog seems most interested in penguins who deviate from the normal stories told about them.

Herzog is also a character in his film, narrating his perceptions of McMurdo (he is appalled by a the existence of an ATM and a yoga studio) and keeping silent during the most breath-taking shots of the environment. As a director known for filming in extreme settings and situations, Herzog fits in perfectly with his McMurdo cast of characters, who reject ordinary existence and forge a society of dreamers, searchers and thinkers.

Some Alaskans spend their winters in Antarctica. After watching "Encounters," many more might be tempted to.

- Katie Spielberger

"Encounters at the End of the Earth" will be shown at the Goldtown Nickelodeon at the following times (subject to change): Sept. 4, 7 p.m; Sept. 5, 7 & 9:15pm; Sept. 6, 7 & 9:15pm; and Sept. 7, 4 & 7 p.m.

Note: due to an early press deadline for Labor Day, Gross Alaska showtimes were unavailable at presstime. For Juneau showtimes visit or call 463-FLIX. In Ketchikan visit or call 225-2294.