"Notice: Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success." Such was the advertisement posted by Ernest Shackleton recruiting for a journey across Antarctica – the least-known and most dangerous continent on Earth. He got his crew and in 1914 set off on his journey, but he was all too correct about the constant danger: his ship, the Endeavor, was trapped in ice off the coast of Antarctica, forcing the crew to live nearly two years in a hazardous situation before a last-ditch effort brought rescue.
Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure is billed as a triumph of the human spirit, an uplifting story of a man and his superhuman will to survive against the odds. That's all well and good... except that I didn't find the story of Shackleton to be at all worthy of such praise. Did Shackleton and his men survive extremely difficult conditions and repeated setbacks in the most hostile part of the earth? Yes, of course... but in order to care about what they went through, I had to care about why they were there in the first place. If he had been on some sort of scientific or exploratory mission, something which would advance the knowledge of the human race, then his valiant attempts to complete his task and return home safely would have meant something. However, the only reason for the crew of the Endurance to have been in their tough situation seems to have been, in a word, ego: Shackleton's all-encompassing desire to be first in doing something difficult, just for the sake of doing it. Then again, perhaps there is indeed something in Shackleton's adventure that merits our admiration; however, the film of Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure skims so lightly over the material that it is not brought to light.
The film itself uses both filmed reenactments of the events and archival footage and photographs of the real events to tell its story. The juxtaposition of the two narrative methods, sometimes within moments of each other, is in the end rather jarring, and certainly gives an odd feel to the film. I would heartily have preferred that the filmmakers had chosen either one or the other, and stuck to it; the mix simply doesn't work. Nor does the film stick to the 1914-1916 timeframe of the events for the entire program; at the end, we get a short conclusion that introduces three modern-day mountain climbers retracing Shackleton's route across South Georgia Island. This latter segment doesn't contribute anything of note to the overall program, and considering how short it is to begin with (only 41 minutes), I'm not sure why the filmmakers didn't use that time to flesh out the main body of the story a bit more.
It's quite clear from the cinematography that this was created as an IMAX presentation: we get lots of long, sweeping shots close to the surface of the water or skimming over mountain ranges, and "in the boat" shots where the camera rocks back and forth with the waves. In an actual IMAX theater, these effects are undoubtedly quite impressive; however, it doesn't translate all that well to home viewing. My own home theater system certainly gave the film a fair shot: it's not a huge IMAX screen, but a 53-inch widescreen television, located at a moderate distance from the sofa, is nearly as good as it's going to get in the home. Even so, the effect was definitely not immersive.
One point of interest for the program is that it's narrated by Kevin Spacey. Though his intonation is rather wooden, his voice is at least interesting enough to give a little added flavor to the experience.
Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure is presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio for presentation in IMAX theaters. The image is quite attractive overall, with a mostly clean print and hardly any noise; blues of sky, water, and ice are nicely represented. The one fault I saw in the image was the presence of some edge enhancement.
The DTS 6.1 track of Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure is the best part of the DVD. The scenes at sea are wonderfully surround-intensive, with the rear channels being used extensively to create an atmosphere that envelops the viewer into a world of wind, rain, crashing waves, and creaking timbers. The music has a nice, full quality to it, and the volume peaks of the music, though loud, are always in non-narrated portions of the film, so there's never a conflict between music and dialogue.
If there's anything to fault in the DTS soundtrack, it's that it's a bit overdone: the music is rather pretentious-sounding and occasionally slightly overloud, and the environmental effects are perhaps stronger than would be realistic. This is undoubtedly a consequence of the film being originally an IMAX presentation, designed for maximum "blow the audience away" effect. At any rate, it's fun to listen to and should give your home theater a workout.
The disc also includes a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack, which is obviously much flatter and less involving, with all the depth and immersiveness of the DTS track missing.
We're looking at a pretty basic disc here. It comes with two trailers, one for the feature itself, and one for another IMAX presentation, Island of the Sharks.
If you're a big fan of the IMAX films on DVD, Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure may be worth picking up. Apart from that, it's of minor interest, except perhaps as a nice audio demonstration disc for friends. The cinematography is nice but not overwhelmingly so, and the content is fairly shallow; if you're interested, a rental is probably best.