Through Herzog's eyes it is a desolate, strangely beautiful frozen Edenish hell where the planet, having shaken out its pockets, lets the loners, fanatics and cosmologist-crackpots fall to bottom.
"No penguins," promises/threatens the German-born filmmaker who narrates the movie in carefully measured Schwarzeneggerian cadences that manage to be simultaneously serious and droll.
Still, Herzog (whose superior Grizzly Man wasn't even nominated for best documentary the year that March of the Penguins won) can't help himself when he meets a zoologist. "Is there such a thing as insanity among penguins?" he demands, training his camera on a stubborn bird that peels itself from its community and wanders towards oblivion.
That is the type of personality to which Herzog is near-fatally attracted, the type that seeks self-knowledge in risk-taking, potentially self-destructive, behavior.
The type that dives under the polar ice cap to capture the sapphire-and-pearl shimmer of ice and sea. The type that listens to the music of keening seals. The type that studies the violent organisms lurking beneath the glistening ice.
These are the types that populate Encounters at the End of the World, and they are endlessly fascinating.
Encounters at the End of the World ***1/2 (out of four stars)
Directed by Warner Herzog. With Herzog. Distributed by THINKFilm.
Running time: 1 hour, 39 mins.
Parent's guide: G
Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse
Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog, Flickgrrl, at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/flickgrrl/.