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Shackleton and Endurance crew
Shackleton, and the Endurance crewmen

June 2002                                                       SITE MAP   SEARCH
South: Sir Ernest Shackleton's
Glorious Epic Of The Antarctic

photography by Frank Hurley

80 minutes (E) 1919
BFI DVD Region 2 VHS retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Peter Schilling

This film by Australian cameraman Frank Hurley documents the British Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition of 1914-16, which ended in "glorious failure" for quest leader Ernest Shackleton, and the 27-man crew of doomed ship Endurance. They hatched an ambitious plan to cross the cold continent by dogsled, but the journey turned into a great escape from "white warfare" of the harsh winter, and the grave boredom of polar nights. It was the third mission to the South Pole and, despite his impatience with financial realities, Shackleton realised that a commercial film of his epic outing would recoup some of the scheme's considerable expenses. But, sadly, although he returned home to a hero's welcome, the public was indifferent to the initial release of South, due to the troubles of the First World War.
   Restored by the National Film & Television Archive, this unique documentary shows part of the hopeful voyage to Antarctica before the ship became stuck in ice floes, drifting back north for several months. Hurley bravely captured images of the ship's prow breaking through pack ice, and flash photographs of the 'ghost' ship frozen in place are haunting. However, adversity followed disaster when Shackleton's team were forced to abandon the Endurance to pitch camp on the ice, and there's a poignant gloom in the scenes of their ship being slowly crushed. Although the entire crew made it dry land safely, we don't see very much of what happened next because Hurley was forced to abandon his bulky cine camera. Most of the film's second half consists of stills and paintings except for the wildlife sequences added later to please a public more interested in seeing penguins than human achievement. This is highly ironic because the expedition's 69 sledge dogs, plus at least one litter of cute pups born at sea, were eventually all shot and eaten - so perhaps this film is not really suitable for animal lovers.
   Although the film is tinted in blue, green and yellow as per its original prints, I found the plain black and white scenes looked better, and they certainly feel more realistic. As this is a silent film, there's music by Neil Brand, and an informative commentary track by film historian Luke McKernan. DVD extras: additional footage from South (20 minutes of unaccountably deleted scenes that are silent and not tinted), plus brief clips of Shackleton's funeral on South Georgia in 1921, On The High Seas (more scenes onboard the ship), The Ross Sea Party (footage of Shackleton's heroic supply depot team, with expert commentary by Kelly Tyler, author of forthcoming book The Lost Men), an audio clip of Shackleton's lecture, stills gallery, expedition map with route description by Tyler.