Early in Werner Herzog's unique, striking new documentary Encounters at the End of the World, the great German filmmaker reminds us that this will not be another movie about penguins. Spoken in Herzog's familiar rich, ironic drone, the line gets a big laugh, but it also brings up a good point. Does the inclusion of Herzog's personal interests make this a better movie than March of the Penguins? And, ultimately, what do we really expect from a documentary?
Let's look at these questions a little later, and get back to Herzog's film, which starts in Antarctica. Actually, it started a couple of years ago when Herzog incorporated some astonishing, underwater footage into his all-but-unreleased film The Wild Blue Yonder (2005). A photographer friend dove under the Antarctic ice to shoot images of the unbelievable creatures, shapes and displays of light that could only be seen there, and Herzog used the footage in his film to represent life on another planet (!). But the pictures apparently continued to fascinate him, and so he journeyed to the earth's southernmost point to learn more.