When the triumvirate of legendary adventurers Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Sir Ernest Shackleton, and Roald Amundsen initiated and, 20 years later in 1917, ended the so-called “Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration,” the last corner of our globe was checked off the undiscovered list, and those hoping to grow up to be explorers were immediately out of luck. There was nowhere left to go on Planet Earth, the book was forever closed on searching for the unknown.
Well, at least that’s what famed director Werner Herzog believes. So in his latest flick, Encounters at the End of the World, which comes to Campbell Hall next week, the documentarian turns his camera on the folk who still toil in the extreme land of ice and oddity called Antarctica, and finds that there’s still plenty of discovery-both scientific and personal-happening down there. Plus, while it may be the “end of the world,” Antarctica is very much a key to the next world, whether that means living on the moon or figuring out how humans and other life-forms will persist on a planet that’s hell-bent on getting hotter.
Working on the frozen continent for seven weeks thanks to a National Science Foundation grant, Herzog and his cinematographer, Peter Zeitlinger, began their trip as most Antarctic travelers do: at McMurdo Station, a desolate and aesthetically dire headquarters for the continent’s researchers where heavy machinery operates constantly, the sun shines all day and night during the “popular” season, and there’s plenty of reason to wonder why anyone would want to stay here long. The film, accompanied as usual by Herzog’s all-too-ponderous, German-accented narration, showcases the weird cycles of life at McMurdo, and features candid interviews with everyone from cafeteria workers, plumbers, and tractor drivers to retiring scientists, survival class teachers, and people who’ve come because it’s the last place on the map.
Encounters at the End of the World
- When: Wednesday, October 15, 2008, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: UCSB Campbell Hall, 574 Mesa Rd., Santa Barbara, CA
- Cost: $5 - $6
- Age limit: Not available
The portrayal brings back lots of memories for UCSB geology professor Bruce Luyendyk, who made eight research trips to Antarctica between 1989 and 2004. “McMurdo as a town is pretty bleak under the best of circumstances,” explained the marine geophysicist last week, noting the lack of trees and outdoor advertising typical in most towns. He said that there are two types of people at McMurdo: the “beakers,” or scientists, and the rest, who are contractors or military. “The contractors are a mix of mostly younger people looking for adventure and thinking this is the gateway,” explained Luyendyk. “What they find is a lot of hard work under challenging conditions and restrictions on their movements by the governing authority of the U.S. National Science Foundation.” He said that while scientists come for a few weeks or couple months, the contractors are locked into four- or six-month jobs. “A few extreme individuals are there to ‘winter over,’” he explained. “Those individuals who choose to return for multiple seasons have found a place in which only a few fit in.”