After Antarctica


Traversing the Antarctic is like travel on another planet.

(2021) Documentary (Moniker) Will Steger, Jean-Louis Etienne, Keizo Funatsu, Geoff Somers, Dr. Victor Boyarsky, Dr. Qin Dahe. Directed by Tasha Van Zandt

 

In 1989, a multi-national team led by American polar explorer Will Steger and French naturalist Jean-Louis Etienne, determined to make a non-mechanized journey from coast to coast in Antarctica. This meant they crossed on foot or by dog sled, and navigated by sextant. The 220 day expedition covered 3,741 miles through some of the most ferociously inhospitable terrain on the planet. They faced a storm that lasted 40 days (and 40 nights, I assume) that led to near-whiteout conditions. At times, the temperature reached 113 degrees below zero.

The purpose of the trip was to call attention to the polar regions and the effect that changing climactic conditions were having. The scientific data that the team recorded helped climate scientists determine that the ice caps were melting, and that climate change was posing a survival threat to the human race.

Steger has gone on to do other polar expeditions – it is something in his blood, in his nature. Footage of that 1989 trek, a journey that shaped his life. Now in his mid-70s, he decided to make a trek across the Arctic circle by himself to further call attention to the crisis, one which has in many ways largely been ignored in any meaningful way since that first expedition.

This documentary juxtaposes footage from that 1989 expedition – which is simply terrifying – with the gentler footage of Steger’s more recent trek, undertaken 30 years after the first. The idea, I think, is to illustrate how the climate crisis has grown more urgent in the intervening years but the idea backfires as the viewer gets involved more in the adventure aspect of that 1989 expedition which was undertaken in such hazardous conditions, than in the message that Steger himself is trying to deliver. It is truly a vivid illustration of the adage “never let the facts get in the way of a good story,” and the 1989 Trans-Antarctic was a hell of a good story.

The footage – some of it shot by Steger himself – is phenomenal and certainly the movie is worth seeing for that alone; it’s just I think that the important message that is trying to be communicated here gets lost in the sheer magnitude of the courage of those men who undertook the trip, which I think is somewhat ironic. What Steger ends up doing is competing with his younger self for screen attention. That’s never an easy task no matter how important the message.

The film is currently playing the festival circuit and has yet to get distribution. However, don’t be surprised if a documentary-oriented streamer like Discovery Plus, or a program like POV on PBS snaps this one up eventually.

REASONS TO SEE: Beautiful natural footage.
REASONS TO AVOID: The back and forth between the 1989 Trans-Antarctic expedition and Steger’s recent solo expedition robs the film of dramatic tension.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some animal peril.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Steger was 75 years old when he embarked on his final Arctic expedition.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 4/12/21: Rotten Tomatoes: No score yet; Metacritic: No score yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Shackleford
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
The Catch

Whiteout


Kate Beckinsale

This is Kate Beckinsale looking concerned. Later, she'll look perplexed.

(Warner Brothers) Kate Beckinsale, Gabriel Macht, Columbus Short, Tom Skerritt, Alex O’Laughlin, Shawn Doyle, Joel Keller, Jesse Todd, Arthur Holden, Erin Hickock. Directed by Dominic Sena

In space, no one can hear you scream; by the same token, at the South Pole, nobody can see a maniac coming either. At least, not in this movie.

It all starts with a plane full of Soviet Russians circa 1955 transporting a mysterious box over the South Pole to God knows where (Ummm…not to make too fine a point of it, but isn’t the USSR closer to the North Pole? Just asking…) when a gunfight breaks out on the transport plane. As anyone who knows airplanes can tell you, a gunfight on an airplane in midflight is usually a very bad idea. This scene would bear that out – so remember the next time you feel the urge to shoot someone on a plane, no matter how irritating they are.

Fifty years later another body turns up, and like the Russians, this one was killed on purpose but nobody knows who it was or what the body was doing all the way to Hell and gone. U.S. Marshall Carrie Stetko (Beckinsale) has maybe the cushiest and worst job in the U.S. Marshall service – the most she ever has to deal with are a couple of geologists arguing about whose theory about igneous rocks is more accurate. Now, she has to deal with a murder – and only two days to solve it before the researchers fly north for the winter.

She will be aided by the wise, kindly Dr. Fury (Skerritt) who has nothing to do with Nick Fury other than they both originated in comic books, an FBI agent (Macht) who shows up conveniently, a wisecracking pilot (Short) and umm…other guys. As other bodies start turning up and an investigation of the original crime scene turns up that Russian transport plane from the prologue, it appears that the murders have something to do with whatever was in that mysterious box. What was so valuable that people would be killing for it fifty years later? The Ark of the Covenant maybe?

The movie started out life as a tautly written graphic novel that was way more suspenseful than this mess. The fact that it was shelved for nearly a decade before it was made, then sat on the studio shelf an additional two years after it was made should have told you something; well, obviously you took it to heart because this bombed at the box office in a hailstorm of negative reviews.

Part of the movie’s problem is endemic to the location, which is ironically one of the things that sets this movie apart from other thrillers. The whiteout conditions at the conclusion of the movie make it nearly impossible to tell who’s fighting who, or see what the characters are doing. I’ve seen plenty of movies so underlit that you can’t make out what’s going on; here, the action is obscured in a blizzard of studio snow.

The other problem is that much of the tension that made the graphic novel so enjoyable is largely missing here. Beckinsale, who can be a strong actress when given the right material (see Snow Angels), has been given absolutely nothing to work with here. Oh, there’s a backstory about a near-death experience while working for the Marshall Service in Miami that Haunts our Heroine Even Now, but largely she is given no personality and spends most of the movie looking perplexed, surprised, bundled up beyond recognition in fur jackets or stripping down for a gratuitous shower.

Likewise, most of the other characters are given no personalities and all kind of blend together with the exception of Skerritt’s Doc Fury who comes off a bit like a skinny Wilford Brimley. As such, you’re given no reason to care a whit about any of them, even after the maniac with the pickaxe comes calling.

There were four writers credited with the screenplay, which makes for patchwork screenwriting. This was a difficult graphic novel to translate to the motion picture medium at best for the reasons outlined above, but it basically had no chance with so many fingers in its pie. Hopefully, the studios and producer Joel Silver will have learned a lesson; avoid action sequences in a snowstorm and focus on character development if you want the suspense to really go off the scale and in the future, try to inject a little suspense into a suspense movie.

WHY RENT THIS: Kate Beckinsale is a beautiful woman.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not a lot of suspense and quite frankly some of the action is hard to see.

FAMILY VALUES: There is a bit of violence but not to excess, some rather grisly images and a bit of nudity. Probably not for the kids, unless they’re crazy mature.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Lake Manitoba exterior location was occasionally colder than the South Pole it was doubling for.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: None listed.

FINAL RATING: 5/10

TOMORROW: The Expendables