Are you a fan of cute penguins? Slice of life stories about work crews coping with difficult conditions? Concerned about global warming? Interested in the only continent on earth with no permanent residents, municipalities or borders?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, you just might be in luck. A new documentary manages to cover all these subjects, plus whale tracking, human interest stories (complete with humor, pathos and suspense), and a fair amount of scientific knowledge imparted, refreshingly, in layman’s terms, all in a breezy 70 minutes.
That said, 70 Degrees South, an undeniably entertaining and informative movie, is flawed by the very things that make it stand out from similar documentaries. The narration at the end and beginning of the movie present its central conflict: how remarkably quickly arctic ice is melting, and the dangerous effect that has on varied climates throughout the world. Yet unlike with the majority of documentaries, no villain is identified. Scientists almost universally agree, of course, that the villain is us, But the film is curiously silent on that fact, as well as what, if anything, can be done about it.
Not that it doesn’t have plenty to recommend it anyway. The photography is stunning, with underwater shots, beautiful and terrifying icy landscapes, fields of huge penguin populations (and they are just so adorable), and desolate shores shown in their largely untouched state.
The scientists and crew of the ship who form the cast of the movie are an interesting bunch as well, a blend of male and female characters with a variety of personalities, honest about the doubts, difficulties and dangers they face. The watcher learns how they how they cope with the pressures of work and isolation, using humor or superstition, often both simultaneously.
The lack of a central theme limits its success, but it is still entertaining, enlightening and enjoyable to watch. One leaves it with a little more knowledge about the least-travelled land mass on earth, and perhaps even a sense of the seriousness of its role in global warming, but probably not with any more determination to do anything about it. Not that a mere movie can provide an antidote to human pessimism and doomsday scenarios, but every little bit helps. And a bit of entertainment on the way certainly can’t hurt.