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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Antarctica: A Year on Ice documentary review: totally cool

Antarctica A Year on Ice green light

I’ve been waiting for a movie like this, and I can’t believe no one has done this before: shown us life over a full year in the most remote place on Earth.
I’m “biast” (pro): totally enthralled by Antarctica

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I’ve been waiting for a movie like this! New Zealander Anthony Powell maintains communications equipment in Antarctica and enjoys playing around with cameras, and he has finally done what I can’t believe no one has done before: shown us what it looks and feels like to spend a full year in the most remote place on Earth.

It turns out that far more people live and work in Antarctica in the summer than I ever realized — though Powell informs us that it’s “only” 5,000 people — and also more than I would have guessed in the winter: as many 700. Of course, they’re spread out across a continent that’s bigger than the entire United States, mostly on small bases with small staffs, but Powell is stationed at the American base, McMurdo, which turns out to be more like a small town you might see in Alaska than something out of The Thing. (We see no monsters here, but there are seals and penguins.) It hadn’t occurred to me before, but this is obvious: not everyone who gets to go to Antarctica is a scientist. And, in fact, Powell focuses on the firemen, the helicopter pilots, the administrators, the chefs; there’s even a retail store that someone has to run.

The stark, serene beauty of the place — the landscapes are also more varied than I imagined — gets plenty of play, as does the spirit of international cooperation that one Antarctican notes is working better here than anywhere else on the planet. And just as I was thinking that this is what it will be like when we go to Mars, albeit with longer supply lines and a communications lag, Powell shows us the place that is most like Mars on Earth: the gorgeously desolate Dry Valleys.

I love this movie! Life in Antarctica turns out to be livelier and weirder than I ever could have guessed — months of unending darkness has a strange impact on human mind, in both positive and negative ways — and I am so delighted to have gotten the chance to see, if only secondhand, things that most of us will never be able to experience up close.


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Antarctica: A Year on Ice (2014)
US/Can release: Nov 28 2014

MPAA: rated PG for mild thematic elements and language

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, you might want to reconsider.

  • LaSargenta

    Nor should we experience it first hand. Antartica is fragile. The so-called ecotourism has already done much damage. But, yes, we do all want to see it. I’ll look for this.

  • When the planet starts heating up in a serious way, Antarctica is going to boom.

  • Constable

    Poor California… what am I saying, I have no sympathy for those water sucking desert dwellers. They want to leach the largest mass of fresh-water dry onto their lawns.

  • LaSargenta

    Actually, many municipalities have gotten strict about lawns. It’s agriculture unsuited for CA — like almond groves and broccoli — done on a large scale that is the biggest problem now.

    So blame everyone who buys CA produce.

  • Who said anything about California? Please don’t hijack comments threads.

  • walking man

    A nice surprise to see this reviewed! Saw this ages ago at a film fest and loved it. These are my people. Now how I get there…

  • Constable

    I wasn’t being entirely serious, but I admit that I don’t really see what I was trying to do here. Sorry all, my original intent was to point out how global warming, while potentially beneficial to colder regions, would make places like CA and Arizona difficult to live in without a constant supply of resources. The rest was my sleep addled brain talking. It’s fine with me if you wish to delete my previous post for thread integrity.

  • Lennon

    I backed the Kickstarter for this, so I’m very excited to see you review and enjoy it. It’s a great little movie. Gods, I would love to go to Antarctica more than anywhere else on the planet.

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