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Man alive: Encounters at the End of the World 

Werner Herzog braves the cold

Director Werner Herzog isn't long for this Earth. No one is.

That's but one reason why he so beautifully captured the Alaskan wilderness's vastness in 2005's Grizzly Man and the Amazon rainforest's verdant splendor in 2004's The White Diamond. For his latest film, Encounters at the End of the World, Herzog combs Antarctica's icebergs and underwater marvels in another existential meditation on the tensions between man and nature.

The National Science Foundation invited Herzog to explore its series of frigid outposts as an assignment for the Discovery Channel. While the subject matter might seem a bit too familiar, he again manages to conjure undeniable beauty and revelation in Encounters.

Herzog and his lone crewman, director of photography Peter Zeitlinger, venture out from the McMurdo home station and marvel at wonders such as an iceberg so large it could be its own continent, a three-foot-tall ice "chimney" and a volcano threatening to erupt at any moment.

He seems to favor underwater shots, though, as the camera uncovers a strange new world drenched in a romantic shade of azure, and populated with deep-sea divers and wildlife floating in a dreamlike state.

The power of dream life fascinates Herzog, and by his account, the bulk of the 1,000-member McMurdo crew is really a collection of dreamers who've come to Antarctica to escape humanity. Mechanics become poets and biologists become philosophers in front of the camera, as they explain science's cosmic importance. "I'm a vagabond floating in the ocean," says glaciologist Douglas MacAyeal. "I can feel the rumble of the iceberg. I can feel the sound coming up through the bottoms of my feet ..."

The film underscores Herzog's enduring existential crisis – that man's importance is infinitesimal when set against the backdrop of nature. It's not long before we realize that the "end of the word" referred to in the movie's title isn't just a geographical location, but man's fate as well.

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