Sunday, August 17, 2014

Expedition to the End of the World: Greenland Beckons

Thanks to climate change, the spirit of adventure is alive and well. More mild summer temperatures have made some of Greenland’s most remote northern fjords briefly navigable. It is an invitation from nature a ragtag party of scientists and artists could not refuse. Daniel Dencik documents their journey in Expedition to the End of the World (trailer here), which opens this Wednesday at Film Forum.

The Activ is a three-mast schooner, but it cuts through the ice quite efficiently. It might be an old school means of travel, but at least one crewmember brought along his personal ultralight aircraft. They are a somewhat eccentric bunch, who periodically blast Metallica and engage in DIY skeet shooting. There is the geologist, the geochemist, the geographer, the zoologist, the archaeologist, the painter, and the theologist. There might even be a cobbler and a candlestick maker onboard somewhere.

Without question, the natural beauty of the surrounding vistas is strikingly cinematic. Dencik also has the integrity to include some exchanges that do not exactly match up with viewer expectations, as when several scientists tell us just because they study climate change does not necessarily mean they have an opinion on the subject. He also captures a good deal of ruckus (bordering on meathead) behavior—some of it involving firearms.

However, nearly everyone seems to be trying out lines to use on the lecture circuit later. Frankly, at times the interview segments sound like a collection of fortune cookies written by Stephen Jay Gould. There is also a rather conspicuous question hanging over the film. We are told climate change has only now made this picturesque stretch of land accessible to mankind, but since there seem to be traces of ancient humanity there, does that not suggest temperatures were once roughly commensurate to what they are now?

The scenery is spectacular and the drive to explore is always appealing. Nonetheless, the audience will be more than ready to leave the far reaches of Greenland well before the Activ sets sail for home port. It is a worthy subject, but Expedition could have easily been a fifty-some minute PBS special instead of a feature length theatrical doc. Recommended for fans of nature films who can tune out pretentious pontificating, Expedition to the End of the World opens this Wednesday (8/20) at New York’s Film Forum.