Director: Anthony Powell
3 (out of 5) Globes
There’s already a great documentary about Antarctica: Werner Herzog’s “Encounters at the End of the World,” which takes a delightfully Herzogian (which is to say deeply, madly eccentric) look at the people who willfully work on the Southern Hemisphere. “Antarctica: A Year on Ice” is the more mainstream version of that — a straightforward doc with more than its share of pretty pictures and an alternately bouncy and inspiring score.
But it’s still pretty mad, largely because you’d have to be a little crazy to live there year-round. In fact, the director, Anthony Powell, is one who does. It’s a missive from the antisocial to the rest of the world, conveying both the beauty of the endless, undominated landscapes and the thrill of being willfully trapped in a place that’s objectively difficult to withstand. Around 5,000 — not just scientists, but “real people,” Powell says — stay there during the summer; come winter the number drops to under 700. For those who remain after the last plane to warm (or at least not well below freezing) weather has departed, it’s like a nicer version of “The Shining,” only with the occasional Category Five storm.
In the opening stretches of the film, the settled parts of Antarctica could almost pass for an Alaskan town. When they leave it’s like an alien landscape. Powell actually invented camera equipment that wouldn’t freeze during the least hospitable times of year. Having shot over a decade — though the bulk of the film consists of a single year — he’s come back with stunning images, most of them in good old time-lapse. Granted, the actual landscapes tend to not be moving, but he’s there for a battering ram of jaw dropping Aurora Borealis footage, with green and purple colors swirling in the sky like paint in water.
But even when it’s not being ostentatiously pretty “Antarctica” is fascinating. Gorgeous nature shots are in the mix with barely visible takes of pummeling storms and mundane hangouts. It’s nearly an infomercial for the mentality of those who stay, a paean to the alternate universe that lives down there. Many nations have outposts in the continent, and despite what’s going on between them up North, they all get along down South. (Among the stranger asides is that they all get together for an “Antarctica Film Festival,” where everyone makes goofy short movies — horror films, comedies, re-enactments of Nintendo games, etc.) They’re cut off the ways and annoyances and in-fighting of man, only having to put up with stir craziness and bad food. Sounds nice.
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