I recently watched the final episode of Michael Palin’s 8-episode travel series “Pole to Pole”, where Palin travels the length of the globe from the North Pole to the South Pole. The stark, haunting beauty of Antarctica captivated me, and it was humbling to think of all of the human effort it takes to reach the pole under the best conditions. If you have ever wanted to plan a trip to visit the bottom of the world, you will love the opportunity to travel from the comfort of your armchair by watching these documentaries.
March of the Penguins (2005)
This Academy Award-winning film, narrated by Morgan Freeman, follows the life cycle of penguins over the course of one year. It is astonishing to see any creature thriving in such a barren wasteland, and remarkable to think that penguins are able to do what people can not. The fury of Antarctic storms are shown in all their terrifying majesty, and you will find yourself becoming emotionally attached to the young penguin chicks.
What many America viewers don’t know is that the American version of the film, narrated by Freeman, is quite different from the original French theatrical presentation. In the original version, there are three narrators; one narrator speaks from the perspective of the male penguins, another voice reads the thoughts of the female penguins, and even the internal monologue of the baby chicks is voiced by a narrator. If you are a fan of the Morgan Freeman version, try watching the original sometime.
Encounters at the End of the World (2008)
The polar opposite of March of the Penguins (no pun intended, I swear), Encounters at the End of the World focuses on the people who call Antarctica home. People profiled in the documentary include geologists and zoologists, as well as those with less glamorous jobs, including the maintenance workers at McMurdo Station. While the film depicts the environment of Antarctica very well, the focus is really on the sort of people that would willingly move there for the sake of their careers. The entire film took seven weeks to make, and was filmed by a crew of just two people, making the final product incredibly intimate.
Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition (2000)/ Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure (2001)
This duo of films by George Butler are best viewed as a double feature. Despite all of the advances in technology in the past 150 years, Antarctica is just as menacing and entrancing to us today as it was when early Antarctic explorers like Shackleton first attempted to conquer the continent, and it is astonishing to think of these intrepid explorers braving the elements with equipment that seems antiquated today. The first film is narrated by Liam Neeson, and the second film features voiceovers by both Kevin Spacey and Michael Gambon.