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Endurance, The

Other // Unrated // November 6, 2012
List Price: $20.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted February 1, 2013 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:
A long out of print DVD that will cost you some serious cash if you want a copy, The Endurance is an engaging documentary relating the amazing events of Sir Ernst Shackleton's disastrous 1914 expedition to Antarctica.  Now the film is available again through the Sony Choice Collection, their MOD program that puts hard to find movies and TV shows into the hands of fans.  This disc is identical to the earlier release, including all of the extras and bonus featurettes.

"Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success."  With that newspaper ad, Sir Ernst Shackleton started recruiting men for his expedition to be the first person to cross the continent of Antarctica.  He received over 5000 replies, and from that selected a group of men who would go on one of the most harrowing journeys in the history of exploration.  This documentary chronicles that mission, using stills and film footage taken by expedition photographer Frank Hurley along with excerpts from the members diaries, vintage interviews, and recollections from the offspring of the survivors.
By the time Shackleton placed his newspaper ad, he was one of the most experienced explorers of the southernmost continent.  He has accompanied Falcon Scott on his 1901 attempt to reach the South Pole (Ernest came down with a case of scurvy that nearly killed him on the trip that Scott interpreted as a weakness in character).  He made his own attempt to be the first to the Pole in 1907, getting closer than any man before him.  He could have easily reached the pole, but realized that the team would run out of supplies on the way back and die, so he abandoned his quest within 100 miles of his goal.  (Falcon Scott would die along with four of his men on his next attempt.  After reaching the pole (five weeks after his competitor, Roald Amundsen, arrived) Scott ran out of provisions on the way back.  He was a pretty incompetent leader.)
With the Pole having been reached, Shackleton planned an even great feat... crossing the continent.  He raised money, bought supplies, hired a crew, and on August 8th, 1914, his ship the Endurance left British waters, just as WWI was starting.
The ship traveled to South America, took on fresh provisions, and then departed the whaling island of South Georgia on December 5th bound for the continent of Antarctica.  It would never get there.  On January 15th the Endurance became trapped in pack ice.  The crew worked and worked to free her, but to no avail.  They planned on spending the winter frozen in the Weddle Sea.

That was bad, but things became worse when the ice shifted and crushed the poor ship.  Shackleton had already given the order to abandon ship and remove the supplies, but not his men were stranded in the Antarctic, hundreds of miles from shore, in the middle of a frozen sea.  That's when things really got tough, and they would get more and more desperate as the adventure wore on.
This is one of those stories that you wouldn't believe if it was fiction.  Their situation was so fraught with danger even the most outrageous filmmakers would have killed off some of the crew.  The fact that Shackleton returned with all of his men alive is simply astounding. 

This film is an excellent look at the horrific journey.  The thing that comes through the most is that Shackleton was an amazing leader who could adapt to situations quickly and wasn't easily led to panic.  It's was his force of will, more than anything else, that got he and his men through the journey.
It's amazing that so much of expedition photographer Frank Hurley's work survived the journey back to England and then was preserved.  The haunting images that he took, of the ship trapped in ice and the faces of some of the crew members, really make their situation real.  Director George Butler also insisted on filming the movie on location as much as possible.  He included footage of Elephant Island, the rocky, uninhabited spot in the middle of the ocean where the group eventually landed.  In the commentary track he says that it is impossible for men to survive on such a desolate spot, and from looking at it you'd think he was right.  

The DVD:

This film arrives on a DVD-R disc in a standard case with color artwork.
The Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack is fine.  The dialog comes through nicely and everyone from narrator Liam Neeson to the interviewed relatives of the survivors is easy to discern.  No audio defects are present.
The 1.78:1 widescreen image is just so-so.  There's a good amount of ghosting in some of places (the opening credits for one) and the image is a bit on the soft side.  Ironically Frank Hurley's still are some of the best looking parts of the whole film.  Even with these defects the image isn't bad, just not very spectacular.
These studio direct-to-consumer discs are usually bare bones affairs, so I was very pleased that all of the extras from the original release were included.  These start off with a commentary by producer/director George Bulter.  It's an informative track where he discusses some of the difficulties in filming, relates some trivia and anecdotes that didn't make it into the film, and talks about what he learned over the course of the shoot.  The video bonuses include: Iconic Images, an interview with expedition photographer Frank Hurley's twin daughters; The Tale of the Endurance a 16-minute film where author Caroline Alexander gives her account of the expedition; a making-of piece In the Wake of Shakelton; and Past and Present which gathers some of the descendants of the Expidition's crew.  These were all entertaining and well worth watching.
Final Thoughts:
Shackleton's Endurance Expedition is one of the greatest tales of survival from the golden age of exploration and this documentary does a great job of illustrating just how harrowing and impossible the situation was after their ship was crushed by ice.  Anyone who is interested in a truly amazing tale should check this out. Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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