South: Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition (1919)

Genres - Travel  |   Run Time - 88 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Craig Butler

One's enjoyment of South: Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance Expedition may depend to a degree upon one's familiarity with the backstory of the famous expedition that this film chronicles. That seems a curious statement to make about a documentary, as most films of this type make it part of their mission to fill in such gaps for viewers. But this piece, filmed on the actual 1914 expedition and released in 1919, represents documentary filmmaking in its infancy, and thus should be forgiven this lapse. And even if one does not know all of the details, there's enough information here to make South a gripping and fascinating film. Certainly one comes away admiring the courage and bravery of the hardy souls involved, even if one doesn't get to know them intimately. Still, the brief details that we learn -- from watching the smallest of the men play with the biggest of the dogs, for example, or from the manner in which a crew member approaches a quartet of stand-off-ish Emperor penguins -- do help us to feel we know something about these men. (For that matter, the extensive camera time given to various animals is also extremely charming.) Although it is regrettable that no footage of the most dramatic part of the story -- the months-long 800-mile trip in a small boat by Shackleton and five men who go off to seek help for the rest of the crew -- what footage exists is amazing. It's all the more so amazing when one considers that it was stored in sub-zero temperatures and that much of it actually fell into (and fished out of) the icy Antarctic waters. The restoration work on this film is incredible, and deserves very high marks. A historic achievement in filmmaking, South is a one of a kind experience.