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Shackleton (2002) – DVD Review

Shackleton DVD cover


Written and Directed by: Charles Sturridge
Starring: Kenneth Branagh, Lorcan Cranitch, Matt Day, Kevin McNally, Nicholas Rowe


  • The Making of Shackleton: 50-minute featurette
  • The Sir Ernest Shackleton episode of Biography
  • Antarctica: A Frozen History: a 2 hour program from The History Channel
  • Branagh filmography and biography

Released by: A&E Home Video
Region: 1
Rating: NR
Anamorphic: Yes.

My Advice: Rent It.

Early in the 20th Century, there was a frontier that man wanted to conquer: the Arctic and Antarctic regions. There was a race on to reach both poles, and Sir Ernest Shackleton (Branagh) was one of the men in the running. When his goal of hitting the South Pole is shattered by, well, somebody getting there first–he isn’t content to call it good. No, he wants to up the stakes. He wants to be the first man to CROSS the entire Antarctic continent, and puts together a crew to do just that. However, they never reach the continent–their ship, the Endurance, gets caught in the ice. What followed was over six hundred days of the most grueling man vs. nature story ever recorded–and the crazed thing is that it’s all true.

[ad#longpost]Based on a true story as mentioned, the A&E flick is a pretty good watch. Just like with the George Butler documentary Endurance, it’s kinda hard to screw up this particular tale. The whole thing is so compelling, so riveting, you could do it with finger puppets and still the suspense would be lethal. The good news is that there’s no puppetry here. Instead you have a rather large cast of characters, all who manage to be relatively singular in their own right–and they’re all led by Kenneth Branagh. Branagh has an ego the size of the Antarctic continent–and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s what enables him to not only film a four-hour version of Hamlet, but also to play an explorer who absolutely will not let his men die. So he pulls the whole thing off rather well.

If there’s a weakness in the film, it’s that–because the first half is more concerned with how the entire expedition got going–the finish feels a bit rushed. Really important moments in the story are glossed over: for example, Shackleton has two men with him, and they’ve all been going for around thirty hours straight. They have to sleep–but they can’t sleep, because if you fall asleep exposed to the icy elements–you’re toast. Shackleton keeps watch over them for five minutes, and then wakes them up and tells them they’ve had a half-hour and have to get going. This testament to not only Shackleton’s understanding of human psychology but also his sheer will power to stay awake himself is given about forty-five seconds and feels almost like a mistake. Little things like that nagged at me, but those unfamiliar with the story will probably have a better go at it.

The Endurance crew from Shackleton
The crew of the Endurance from 'Shackleton'

For the DVD set itself, there are many things to commend it. The first thing I noticed is that the three disc cases are all “slimline,” that is, they’re a little less than half the width of normal keep cases. This sounds like a small thing, but when you own as many DVDs as I do, and several of them happen to be multi-disc sets, you tend to be a little concerned about space. Because of the slimline cases, the entire three-disc set takes up about the same amount of space on your shelf as your standard two-disc set. Small thing? Perhaps, but I really dig it.

Thankfully, there’s a lot more than just the cases to make me happy about this set. You see, the great thing about stuff from A&E and The History Channel is that they can draw upon each other to provide great back content for things. Perfect example is Shackleton. Not only do you get the Biography episode about the man himself (which shows how eeriely Branagh resembles Sir Ernest), but you also get a History Channel special about the history of the Antarctic continent and the attempts to explore it over the years. Both are extremely informative, almost exhaustingly so, and give you everything you could want to know about both the man and the place that took up so much of his life. There’s even bits that I hadn’t heard or read about elsewhere–like whatever happened to the other team of Shackleton’s expedition?

Kenneth Branagh gets makeup for Shackleton
Kenneth Branagh, getting madeup as Shackleton

Perhaps the most interesting extra bit, though, is the documentary about the making of the Shackleton film. It’s almost comedic how insane a prospect the film was. They completely outfit a ship to double for Endurance, get it sailed out to Greenland, only to realize: “Hey, you know…ships on the ocean float. And they move a lot. So how are we going to shoot the scenes where it’s stuck in the ice and it’s not supposed to move?” Then they pulled the deck and stuff off and recreated all of it on a soundstage. The stories of them looking for ice floes to shoot on are comical as well. Lord only knows how much this thing cost to put on, and how much of it could have been saved by better planning beforehand. Ah, well.

All seriousness aside, though, the set is a nice one, and one of the best to come out from A&E in support of one of their flicks. Fans of Branagh or the subject matter should go ahead and make the purchase, but the rest of us would do with a good, solid rental.

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