Fiction film: John Carpenter: the Thing (U.S.A. 1982)
This is perhaps the single most classic Antarctica movie, so it was a high time I saw it also. Antarctic literature has often mentioned it as a special favorite at U.S. stations on the seventh continent, and it certainly deserves its reputation. The Thing is the best Antarctica movie I’ve seen so far. It’s a remake of the 1951 movie The Thing From Another World, where the original concept has been heavily updated and fused with material from the classic H.P. Lovecraft story At the Mountains of Madness, featuring the Shoggoth.
Perhaps the best parts of the movie for me were the little details like the slitted goggles on the Norwegian guy we see in the beginning and the creepily authentic group dynamics we see thorough the movie.
Perhaps the most beautiful part of this movie is the beginning, where a gunman in a helicopter is chasing a dog running across the snowy landscape. We don’t know why, and for a long while there is only the strange chase, the dog, and the stark landscapes.
Fiction film: Eric Darnell & Tom McGrath: Madagascar (U.S.A. 2005)
I watched through this computer-animation movie mostly because I’d been told it has some funny penguins. Penguins = Antarctica, so I felt I needed to see some penguin interpretations so I would have something to work with when I finally need to do my own penguin action.
The penguins were funny.
Fiction film: Frank Marshall: Eight Below (U.S.A. 2006)
Is it fair to accuse a childrens’ movie about sledge dogs of being stupid? Maybe the things I have to nitpick about are not relevant. Maybe I’ll sound like those twerps who complain that Legolas has the wrong kind of underpants in the Lord of the Rings movies.
I don’t know.
What I do know is that there’s no sunshine to be had during the Antarctic winter. In fact, the defining characteristic of the Antarctic winter is it’s utter blackness, months on end without a glimpse of the sun.
Many other annoying things in this movie too, but this was the only thing that was hard to ignore. The movie had no night at all.
On the positive side, the dogs were gorgeous. The movie is a remake of a Japanese original from the Eighties, which in turn was based on the true story of a Japanese Antarctic expedition, which had to leave their sledge dogs behind during an evacuation. The dogs had to fend for themselves for an entire winter with no food and no shelter. Bizarrely, when the relief finally came half a year later, two of them were still alive.
Eight Below makes this story of survival somewhat plausible, while in real life the survival of the dogs was totally inexplicable.
Non-fiction: Lennard Bickel: Mawson’s Will (Steerforth Press, 2000)
Lennard Bickel brings the language of a three-penny showman to Antarctic literature, and while it makes it tedious to read, I suppose its useful to see some a new prose style applied to the old subject.
Bickel’s subject is the epic story of Douglas Mawson’s second Antarctic expedition, a story also told in Mawson’s own excellent book The Heart of the Blizzard. I almost gave up on Mawson’s Will, because the first 100 pages or so are singularly uninspired, but when we finally get to the part where people start dying and the suffering begins, Bickel seems to find his muse. The prose starts to sing, the observation of little details is brilliant, contextualization appears in all the right places, so much so that in this one respect Bickel’s narrative surpasses Mawson’s own.
Fiction film: Gary Trousdale: the Madagascar Penguins in a Christmas Caper (U.S.A. 2005)
More cartoon penguin action in this 10-minute short that fails to be as funny as the original Madagascar movie.
Fiction film: Christian Nyby & Howard Hawks: the Thing From Another World (U.S.A. 1951)
Technically set in the Arctic, I include this movie here mostly because of its more famous remake, the Thing, by John Carpenter, where the action was moved to the Antarctic.