Film Review: Shackleton

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You shall not pass!!

A made for TV two parter that’s actually good? Get out! Shackleton tells the true story of a 1914 expedition to cross the South Pole although when his ship Endurance gets impacted by ice – hard decisions for survival must be made.

Release: 2002

Runtime: 206 minutes

Premise

Shackleton the adventurer takes a 28 man screw to the South Pole but the mission goes bust. Whilst the first half tells of the adventure to get him to the disaster, the second half tells of his steely mind and decisive nature to bring his crew home.

The Disasters Faced

Ice, drowning, frostbite, in fighting, running out of cigarettes, dogs fancying a human for dinner, starvation and just being left with your own mind to go nuts with.

The Execution

Shackleton is as much a character study as it is a survival movie and the film makes sure you know its angle from the beginning. He is busy having an affair and trying to sort out his wayward brother for much of the first hour and it’s slow pace along with introduction of many, many characters that don’t have much screen time to have an arc is somewhat of a clumsy opening act. Things step up when the crew set sail from Argentina; but even in the most chaotic moments it doesn’t seem to burst into a frenzy. What’s here is expertly staged, shot, acted and produced but because it’s all about the one man – there’s a bit of a stilted look at the expedition as a whole. Did we need to see so much of a home life that has no bearing on events at the expense of some more gritty frostbite amputations? I know what I’d have been up for! The sedateness of the film is not helped because it chooses to focus on times when the crew are stuck as opposed to their travelling problems. I assume this is due to budget constraints but it feels like a demented road trip at times, without showing the trip. This however works to its advantage when the crew are starving, cold and injured as you feel their lethargy.

Despite there being some courageous stories across the crew, all the glory and attention is on our namesake. Kenneth Branagh chain smokes his way through a decent script with a perfect level of melancholy and quiet despair when alone as things keep going wrong – only to then keep everyone else’s morale afloat in a public persona.

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Bringing along a photographer to document the event was great for funds and for historical purposes.

Effects

The sets and costumes are extravagant and well put together as is the ship itself. Endurance is a character in itself and seeing it’s slow demise and sinking in different stages is really well dealt with. The semi flooded sets are amazing although under utilised whereas the wave effects in what I called The Perfect Storm section are suitably dark and muddy so that they haven’t aged badly at all. Shout out to the make up artists for some gross frostbite injuries too.

Why It’s Worth Watching

Shackleton is great for a Sunday afternoon. It’s relatively gentile despite some really harrowing event and it matches the characters almost matter of fact way of looking at things. He’ll abandon goods, shoot pets, have an argument and march on regardless and then deal with the various reactions of his crew. Some are with him, others lose trust but in what has become cliché for the time – they’ll respect each other and have a gentleman’s smoke with him all the same. Whilst the drama is misplaced to melodramatic marriage problems, I was fascinated with the crews mental health and wish it had been given more air time.

The Drinking Game

Everyone is dying and struggling for food – but they have the room in their pockets to take cigarettes. The priorities made me chuckle.

Favourite Character

There’s some great camaraderie that builds between groups but Pip Torren’s character James always manages to stick his foot in it with ill times jokes that seem to revolve around everyone dying or starving to death. Then he looks sheepish and trying to squirm out of it. He doesn’t have tons of screen time but he’s fabulous when he is there.

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Bring me a dog – I want dinner!

Weirdest Moment

The film is entirely straight laced and doesn’t have much in the way of weirdness or out of place moments. There is however a weird love affair that goes on before the voyage that I can’t find any truth in.

Random Trivia

Ernest Shackleton died on his way to another expedition of a heart attack in 1921. According to the wonders of wikipedia, a medical report on an earlier expedition in 107 suggests he may have had a hole in the heart. That makes his exploits even more impressive although at the time not many cared. His legacy has grown over time.

Conclusion

Straddling the lines between documentary like and theatrical, Shackleton delivers an engrossing experience that I wanted more of. The story itself is a good one, the action is downplayed and we are living in the logistical nightmare of survival. If you enjoy survival movies that are more about people than explosions – this will be right up your street. I haven’t seen the film Endurance which came two years earlier but

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