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The Endurance (2001) – Movie Review

Endurance documentary

Written by: Caroline Alexander & Joseph Dorman, based on the book by Alexander
Directed by: George Butler
Narrated by: Liam Neeson

My Advice: Wait and rent it.

Sir Ernest Shackleton wanted to not just succeed but exceed–and nothing exceeds like excess. So thwarted in his attempts to be the first man to reach the South Pole, he strives ahead anyway for another go. On their way to the Antarctic continent, the expedition’s ship, Endurance, gets snagged in an ice field–that solidifies, trapping them with no way out. What follows is a two year test of limits: the limits that human beings can tolerate before they just fall over and die. The most amazing thing is that Shackleton decided he wouldn’t lose a single man–and he succeeded. That’s right, it ain’t spoilers if it’s in the history books already, people.

[ad#longpost]The biggest plus for this documentary is the tale that it’s relating is so damn compelling, you could do a documentary hosted by Ben Stein in boring teacher mode and the audience would still be gnawing on their fingernails and perching on the edge of their seats. And leaving the place where I viewed the film, even though the temperature was in the twenties, it didn’t feel quite so cold anymore.

The story leaves that big an impression. Another plus is the inclusion of actual photos and film footage from the expedition’s chronicler, Frank Hurley. None of this historical recreation stuff, the majority of it is the real deal.

Detractors from the impact of the film are its setup: the fact that the aforementioned footage is real is never clearly stated at the onset. For the first few times we’re presented with the information, I and my viewing compatriots were wondering if they were recreations–a reasonable question considering the amount of shows on television these days that do just that. That and the idea that footage actually survived the grueling two years’ journey being a little far fetched.

The main problem with the film, though, is that it feels like it was padded to feature length. There are so many modern-shot sequences of ice floes, water, wildlife and so forth–and nothing’s happening. These bits aren’t necessarily establishing anything, they aren’t backed by Neeson‘s capable narration, so why are they there? It seemed like a good twenty minutes could have been shaved with some solid editing. That twenty minutes could have been used to answer other questions about the journey: why didn’t the sailors get scurvy, surviving only on seal meat? How much of one piece did they come back in? What ill-effects did it have on the sailors’ lives after the ordeal? All good questions that I assume are on record somewhere–just wish they had been here as well.

Although some of the visuals are choice and chilling (in more ways than one), this won’t lose anything played on your TV at home. But it is worth the viewing somewhere, so catch it at some point.

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