The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition Movie Review

Based on the book by Caroline Alexander, George Butler's documentary The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition assembles a story of the polar expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton, a family man who perhaps was more of an adventurer than he was a scientist. His attempt to cross the South Pole from sea to sea became famous not for its scientific discovery -- the South Pole had already been discovered -- but for the above-human stoicism of the crew and Shackleton's incredible leadership abilities.

When Shackleton placed an ad in the paper to recruit 27 men for his crew, he straightforwardly listed what was to be expected from the voyage: bitter cold, constant danger, and no guarantee of return. 5,000 men, from all possible backgrounds and upbringings, responded, hungry for adventure and glory -- an example of how people can be so fatally attracted to the unknown. The preparations were completed by the start of World War I, when Winston Churchill, ambivalent about the use of another trip to the Antarctica, nevertheless declined Shackleton's offer to donate his ship Endurance to the Admiralty, sending the crew on their way.

Director George Butler utilizes a wide range of research and innovation in capturing the adventure: still photographs and the actual film footage shot en route, rare data available to descendants of the survivors, private diaries, and modern historical analysis of the journey. Narrated by the impartial voice of Liam Neeson, we get a chronological account of Shackleton's incredible journey. Blazing a new path to the South Pole through the Weddell Sea, Shackleton was hoping to take a full advantage of the Antarctic summer. But soon, Endurance became surrounded by pack ice that made it nearly impossible to push through. After crawling for days, ice finally sealed the ship in place, marooning the crew in the middle of the sea for seven months. To keep the spirits up, they amused each other with theatrical and musical evenings.

The film captures superbly the agony of waiting: the solemn musical score enhances the effects of 28 men trying to break the ice with shovels and picks before eventually abandoning the ship and eventually the mission altogether. With the South Pole unattainable, Shackleton's new goal became survival. What happened then was due to Shackleton's incredible leadership and strategic abilities and made the Endurance expedition one of the most incredible testimonies of the power of the human spirit and a legendary adventure of its era.

As with most great discoveries or achievements, Shackleton's return, after almost two years at sea, wasn't immediately recognized or celebrated -- it was far from glorious. On one hand, the film tells a story that is so gripping and full of unexpected turns it makes one rush to track it on a map. On the other hand, however, pockets of silence and an often sluggish rhythm take away from that suspense, diluting the energy of what otherwise would have been quite a great film.

Into the ice.

Cast & Crew

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The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition Rating

" Good "

Rating: G, 2001


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