Friday, April 24, 2015

Antarctica: A Year on Ice (2014) [PG] ****

A film review by Marc Mohan, Special to the Oregonian, posted on on December 4, 2014.

You'd think the movies have covered Antarctica pretty thoroughly by now. Whether prompting existential ponderings (Werner Herzog's Encounters at the End of the World), hosting strange and beautiful wildlife (March of the Penguins) or serving as the backdrop to extraterrestrial terror (The Thing) the seventh continent has fascinated filmmakers.

But we've never gotten a real sense of what life is like for the hardy souls who live in the most inhospitable place on Earth, which is what director Anthony Powell provides in Antarctica: A Year on Ice. Powell, a communications technician from New Zealand, has spent nine winters there, and not only taught himself filmmaking, but devised equipment that could withstand extreme cold to make this film.

One of the first and most surprising points he makes is that the people at Scott Base (New Zealand's outpost) and McMurdo Station (the American one) aren't all, or even mostly, scientists. It makes sense, of course, that you'd need retailers, firefighters, office managers and other support staff for a functional community, but it's still refreshing to get the perspectives of ordinary folk — at least, as ordinary as you can be and still agree to spend a full year at the bottom of the world.

A Year on Ice also gives you an appreciation for the logistical hurdles involved in supplying a small town during the months when it's inaccessible to supply ships. It acquaints you with the particulars of T3 Syndrome, the mental fogginess that overtakes everyone after weeks of darkness and relative isolation. And it demonstrates the bonds that form between these hardy, vaguely loony souls, including home-movie footage of Powell's Antarctic wedding to a fellow traveler. To be tolerant is very important, understates one winter resident regarding the challenges of being cooped up for six months with relative strangers.

Powell doesn't stint on the visuals, either, using time-lapse to capture stunning auroras, terrifying storms and awe-inspiring vistas. (He also points out that a penguin colony isn't all cuteness and light — for one thing, it smells terrible.) Despite all the camaraderie, natural beauty and exotic weather, though, you couldn't pay me enough to live there, especially not when there's a movie like this to show me what I'm missing. [Mohan’s rating: ‘B’, equivalent to *** out of 4 stars]

[Blogger’s comment: While this was an educational documentary, for me the definitive films on the subject of Antarctica remain the 1983 Japanese language film Antarctica (original title Nankyoku monogatari) with music by Vangelis, and its 2006 remake, Eight Below starring Paul Walker, Jason Biggs and Bruce Greenwood.]

Labels: adventure, biography, documentary, drama

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