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Antarctica: A Year on Ice

Music Box Films Home Entertainment // PG // April 14, 2015
List Price: $34.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Neil Lumbard | posted April 30, 2015 | E-mail the Author
Antarctica - A Year On Ice - Documentary Blu-ray

Antarctica: A Year on Ice is not a documentary film about the place itself as much as it is about the people who live in Antarctica and how they cope with and deal with living out day-to-day lives in an isolated and unfamiliar territory that most people never experience. With amazing photography and a series of interviews with people who live in Antarctica, the documentary explores an element of Antarctica not commonly seen in documentary productions.

The film was produced, photographed, and directed by nature-photographer Anthony Powell, who spent 10 years turning his project into a documentary. This film is unlike most other Antarctica documentaries made before as everything about this effort is geared more towards telling a tale of a ordinary populace working in Antarctica.  Who are the people who live in Antarctica? Why do they live in such harsh environmental conditions with so few people around them?

The film explores these ideas and discovers that most of the people stationed in Antarctica are just there to have a job and keep on living in their day-to-day lives like anyone else. For the purpose of scientific studies and research, there is a need for stations in Antarctica and this extends to needing people there for a number of jobs (some of the interviewees include a manager, a fire-station call attendant, and a retail clerk). Some of the questions asked within the documentary relate back to why it is people decided to work there in the first place and what it is they miss about the home they left when coming to Antarctica. A lot of reminiscing occurs about things missed: the grass on the earth, the seaside, and even things like Taco Bell bean burritos. They all miss something.

 It seems most are displeased with the things they miss but they try and make-do. The people of Antarctica spend a lot of time reading, watching TV, playing, and finding ways to entertain themselves as a group. (Some of them even make home-made short films in Antarctica for fun -- one such film shows a bunch of people running at each other as if they were warriors in a Middle Earth film). They have to find ways to keep themselves engaged because of the harsh environmental landscape.  

Unfortunately, the film glosses over the fact these people are without children or pets besides a foot-note text shown in one scene. There is also a minimal amount of time given to discuss the difficulties of being so far away from loved ones. (Though one scene handled this well when a marriage ceremony is held and the father of the bride is spoken to on the phone as the wedding ceremony takes place in Antarctica).  Even with these kinds of moments, the documentary also shows a clear gender divide with far more men working there than women (without going into any detail as to why this is or why people might choose to live in such a divided and secluded environment).

The documentary reflects the way in which these people struggle with the environment (which seems unfit to live in on some level as during seasons of the year the land is covered in total blackness). The people of Antarctica sometimes suffer memory loss during this time and are forgetful about whether or not they did something the same morning or not (this happens to young people who are in their 20's).  Is it because of the pitch black environment, the freezing cold, or the unusual work environment? Or is it a combination of all three things? The film does not delve into this but it does demonstrate through the interviews how this environment has some effect on the people who live there.

The film also showcases how a particularly windy night combined with freezing temperatures can lead to snow seeping through tiny cracks in windows and doors and fill entire living areas (such as stations and vehicles) with almost nothing but snow. One individual shows off his own station and how after opening the door the entire room was covered with giant globs of snow all around. How do the people of Antarctica deal with these circumstances? Clean up and move on, I suppose.

Antarctica: A Year on Ice certainly isn't a great tourism documentary as it's far more likely to make audiences wonder why anyone might ever consider moving there in the first place. (I'm immediately at a loss given the no-pets element of living there.) This documentary has a lot of educational value about what it's like living there for those who made it their work destination and who reside there during certain parts of the year or on a more continuous level. For anyone interested in a documentary exploring life in this environment for the people who call it  home: Antarctica: A Year on Ice is the documentary you are looking for.  

The Blu-ray:


Antarctica: A Year On Ice looks solid on Blu-ray with a strong 1080p MPEG-4 AVC encoded presentation in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen. The image is clean, crisp, and clear. This documentary has excellent high-definition photography. This is actually far more impressive than on a typical documentary production because of the fact the filmmaker had to use specially made cameras in order to properly film in Antarctica. Special props should certainly be given for the extra effort. The photography worked well for the production. The image might fall short of perfection given occasional softness and banding in some scenes but these are minor drawbacks to an otherwise excellent presentation.


The release is presented with lossless 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Dialogue is easy to understand throughout and the track sounds excellent for a documentary production. Sometimes documentaries have weak or downright poor dialogue reproduction (especially if the quality of recordings wasn't good). However,  Antarctica: A Year On Ice does a sufficient job. Surrounds aren't hugely active but add some nice envelopment with an emphasis on the environmental sounds and the music.


The supplements on this release include: Outtakes and Behind the Scenes (4:02), Ship Offload Time-Lapse (8:18), A Penguin Ate My Camera (1:08), Saving Scotts and Shackleton's Huts (4:59), and Newstalk ZB Radio Interview (Audio Only, 12:17).

Final Thoughts:

Antarctica: A Year On Ice is far more focused on being about the people who live in Antarctica and call it their home than it is about the location itself (in the style typically given to a nature documentary). For viewers interested in what it might be like to be in Antarctica for work and day-to-day living, Antarctica: A Year On Ice provides a glimpse into such events.

Presented on Blu-ray with strong PQ and a decent selection of supplemental features, Antarctica: A Year On Ice is worth checking out for viewers with an interest in Antarctica, sociology, and documentary filmmaking.


Neil Lumbard is a lifelong fan of cinema. He aspires to make movies and has written two screenplays on spec. He loves writing, and currently does in Texas.

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