DOASKDOTELL MOVIE REVIEWs of The Endurance, March of the Penguins , Happy Feet, Winged Migration, Grizzly Man, Into the Wild, Deep Blue, Encounters at the End of the World


Title: The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition

Release Date:  2001

Nationality and Language: USA, English

Running time: about 90 Minutes

MPAA Rating:  G

Distributor and Production Company: Cowboy Pictures and White Mountain Films. Corporate sponsors: Morgan Stanley, Tyco,, Discovery International, Outward Bound, American Museum of Natural History

Director; Writer: based on book by Caroline Alexander

Producer:  Edward Pressman, Terrence Malick, L. Dennis Kozlwoski, Caroline Alexander, John Mack, Mike Ryan

Cast:   Liam Neeson, narrates

Technical: 1.6 to 1, Dolby

Relevance to DOASKDOTELL site:

Review:  This film gives an account of the 650 day vovage through the Antarctic by Ernest Shackleton and his men during a period approximately coincident with World War I.  The ship breaks up in the ice, and the men wind up on a desperate journey for survival, eventually  reaching a whaling station.  It is unbelievable that men could have survived huddled together in makeshift shelters as long as they did on sipping ice and on their buddies’ body heat.  Yes, this is an exercise in “unit cohesion.”

   The photography was a stunning feast of monochromatic blue, in various shades (down to blue green) following the density of the ice.  Some scenes almost seem to have come from another planet.  The soundtrack, when I saw it, was disturbed hy wow and flutter, however.


March of the Penguins (“Marche de ‘empereur”) (2005, Warner Independent Pictures/National Geographic, dir. Luc Jacquet, 80 min, G) has the comforting if didactic voice of Morgan Freeman (he also narrates in the recent War of the Worlds) reminding us of Winston Hibler in the Walt Disney nature “Adventureland” documentaries of the 1950s. The film should be appreciated on two levels. First, it is a journey to the closest thing to a trip to another planet available on Earth; the cinematography brings this out even more in this film than in the Schackleton film. The eyes are treated to a continuous landscape of whites, blues, and steel gray. Even in summer in Antarctica, everything is ice and snow, global warming to boot.


But the real point of this film is probably an allegorical treatment of family values. We see the culture wars reduced to a G rated movie. The emperor penguin indeed has a socially compelling life cycle, one which demonstrates enormous communal commitment to “family” and yet recognizes each individual bird.  Aves they are, although they swim (down to 1700 feet, holding their breaths for 15 minutes) and waddle seventy miles from the coast to safe breeding grounds. They lay their fertilized eggs, and then the females wander back to feed, while the fathers sit on the eggs throughout the Antarctic winter, incubating them, huddling, taking turns on who sits in the warmer center, starving. The mothers come back, and their birdsongs can recognize mates, as they can later recognize offspring. Then the males and females take turns wandering to the beach to feed, but always maintaining the family unit. No deviation from the enormous duties of procreation is ever allowed or even conceived.


A book “And Tango Makes Three” (by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson, Simon & Shuster, 2005) about two male penguins raising an “adopted” bird, based on fact, is creating controversy in an Illinois school district. (AP).


The animated kids’ Australian film “Happy Feet” (Warner Bros/Village Roadshow, 2006, dir. George Miller, 98 min) about an Emporer Penguin who dances to find a mate when he cannot sing, was widely said (by others) to be a parable about non-conformists who challenge prejudice with objectivity and performance. It took a while for me to get to it, and it is quite a spectacle (beginning with a “Zarathustra” shot of the sun, moon, and Antarctica on Earth) and very clever metaphor. The film starts where “March” left off, with the males tending to the “eggs” produced (or at least fertilized) by heterosexual love. One egg slips away and dad has to waddle back with it. The son Mumble (voice Elijah Wood) who is born is different, and pretty soon we find out in “elementary school” when the teacher, in a typical first-grade exercise (where real kids would sit on a rug) tries to get them to sing and Mumble can’t, but he can dance. His “dangerous difference” is seen as subversive, and he goes his own way in life, encountering “aliens” who are us. Though quite charismatic (pretty much like Frodo) he is accused of causing the fish famine. He winds up in a zoo where us “aliens” want to study him because he is different and put a tracker on him and return him. Eventually all of the penguins learn to tap dance. Toward the end, the mixture of animation and real objects (oil rigs, ships, cities) is really striking. Is the “difference” a metaphor for homosexuality? Well, Mumble will still have a wife and kids. It’s more general than that; it seems to compare to integrity, to one’s own message in life and keeping it from being corrupted by the socialization of others.    


Winged Migration, from Sony Pictures Classics, Galatee and Studio Canal, a stunning documentary by Jacques Perrin, is a stunning documentary of bird migrations, in the tradition of the Disney “true life adventure” documentaries from the 1950s (The Living Desert, The Vanishing Prairie), except that this film shows the birds in more on-location settings all over the world than in any other film in history. The photography is ravishing, almost like 3-D without glasses, reminding one of VistaVision (the credits said TechnoVision) but why wasn’t the full 2.3 to 1 anamorphic lens used? The film stock provided more subtle colors than any I jave ever seen. Stunning shots include the geese landing in a Russian steel mill (with one getting stuck), and another down bird consumed by crabs on a West African Coast. The formations are stunning, and it is well known that they provide additional lift for birds and conserve energy, a model that provides discussion for corporate team handbook seminars in the workplace. There is a shot of New York City before 9-11. 


Grizzly Man (2005, Lions Gate, also TV with the Discovery Channel, dir. Werner Herzog) is a documentary about Timothy Treadwell, who lived every summer for years among the grizzly bears on the Katmai area of Alaska, and was killed by an older grizzly with his girl friend Amie Huguenard in October 2003. He was very much a loner most of the time, and had an almost religious belief in the significance of the natural world that he tried to save. This is more a character study about Timothy than about the animals. (He also befriends foxes.) His death comes in the fall, when older grizzlies are just plain hungry. The grizzly, it seems, is not like us; he has no moral sense beyond satisfying his own needs first. (Sometimes that is like us! So that’s a cultural thing.) He talks to himself a lot, almost in falsetto, and at one point speculates on wanting to be gay.


Into the Wild (2007, Paramount Vantage / River Road, dir. wr. Sean Penn, book by Jon Karkauer, 140 min, R, USA) is a spectacular and heartbreaking biography, told in layered fashion with parallel times, of adventurer Chris McCandless, played by 21 year old Enile Hirsch, whose spiritual apprenticeship life in the wilderness comes to a tragic end before even one temptation. Hirsch does play the part of the noble savage, sometimes looking like one, competing (in the Alaska sequence) with biologically or genetically better equipped animals (like bears and wolves) to live at the top of the food chain, by himself and with minimal technology.  (Bears tend to think of humans as weaker, relatively hairless bears, I think.)  It’s hard to fathom that Hirsch, who stands 67 inches, could have found forty pounds to lose for the endgame. Hardly any other hero of McCandless’s age in contemporary film is more lovable and more tragic. PBS had a film a few years ago about an older man living alone in a house in Alaska; the name escapes me now.  Blogger entry is here.


Deep Blue (2003, Miramax / BBC, dir. Andy Byatt, Alastair Fothergill, 91 min, UK, G) with Pierce Brosnan narrating the English version, is a meditation on “blue” rather than “green” with fantastic shots of sea life. There is a scene where orcas separate a blue whale calf from its mother and hunt it down. There is a penguin scene echoing the “March” movie. Toward the end, the movie migrates to the deep, with a world of tubeworms and incandescent life, with the biggest migrations on the planet. The movie shows the 7-mile deep Atlantic Trench.


Encounters at the End of the World (2008, ThinkFilm / Discovery Channel, dir. Werner Herzog, 112 min, USA / Germany, G) Scientists let us in on their lives at MacMurdo in Antarctica, and take us on a tour of the open lava lake at the volcano Mt. Erebus. Blogger discussion.


Related reviews: Perfect Storm, The Shipping News Gerry, Open Water   Penguins of the Antarctic


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