Not among his documentary beauties (such visionary works as Fata Morgana, 1969, Herdsmen of the Sun, 1988, and Bells from the Deep, 1993), German-born, now U.S.-based writer-director Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World, despite its grand title, is lame and lightheaded. Herzog was invited by the National Science Foundation to accompany its crew on an excursion to Antarctica. He agreed, stipulating he would not make a film about marching “fluffy penguins.”
     Herzog’s opinionated voiceover imposes a semblance of unity to his slack material, which consists mostly of interviews of the other members of the excursion, whom he describes as all being “at loose ends,” presumably in their lives, although the film provides little evidence of this. Herzog bemoans the loss of a spirit of adventure and its replacement by a desire to get one’s name into the Guinness Book of World Records. Indeed, he notes that, about a hundred years ago, the original exploration of the South Pole was mostly a competition to see who would get there first.
     Somewhat surprisingly, there are only intermittent glimpses of a world of white. In addition, little impact is made by Herzog’s noting that for five months straight there is no darkness, no night, in this region on Earth. No mystery whatsoever is evoked by this pedestrian documentary.


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