Encounters at the End of the World

South Pole documentary is gorgeous, if a bit dry.
  • Review Date: June 9, 2008
  • Rated: G
  • Genre: Documentary
  • Release Year: 2008
  • Running Time: 99 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The film calls attention to the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge's sake.

Violence & scariness
Not applicable
Sexy stuff

Minor discussion of homosexuality among penguins.


A written card includes the word "hell."


Herzog's trip is sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this beautiful documentary -- which follows filmmaker Werner Hertzog to various scientific and research stations at the South Pole -- is fairly dry stuff, particularly compared to similarly themed audience-friendly docs like March of the Penguins. At the same time, it's a celebration of scientific curiosity and the human spirit, and while young kids may be vaguely flummoxed by Herzog's narration, the movie is absolutely family-friendly and full of astonishing images and ideas.

User reviews

Parents say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

Kids say

Not yet rated
Review this title!

What's the story?

Sponsored by the National Science Foundation, filmmaker Werner Herzog (Grizzly Man, Rescue Dawn) travels to the South Pole with a skeleton crew to explore the area and meet the men and women of the scientific research stations of Antarctica. While Herzog looks at the work the scientists are doing, he's also curious about what compelled these men and women to go so far in the name of science and examines the past and present of the exploration of the South Pole.

Is it any good?


Herzog's previous explorations of the natural world and human behavior have involved big questions and big themes; Encounters at the End of the World is a little more calm and introspective, but it's still a fascinating look at the nature of the scientific exploration going on in one of the world's most desolate places. Herzog serves as his own narrator, and his dry, knowing tone is one of the film's pleasures: Describing McMurdo station, the outpost that serves as a central base for all Antarctic research, he notes how the facility includes many modern amenities, such as "a yoga class, an aerobics studio, and other abominations."

Herzog's explorations and interviews get even more fascinating once he's away from the main station. The film includes gorgeous, impressive underwater sequences shot during dives under the polar ice cap, a balloon launch designed to raise high-end physics observation equipment into the upper stratosphere, penguin-colony footage, and a tour of the rim of an active volcano. Herzog also examines what life is like for the men and women stationed at the South Pole, and their stories and ideas are compelling. Herzog may not be a traditional tour guide, but his off-center sensibility is one of the many pleasures of Encounters at the End of the World; the film's most successful moments come as the combination of a unique location and a unique point of view, both of which Encounters at the End of the World most definitely has to share with the audience.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how this documentary is different from movies like March of the Penguins and Arctic Tale. What audience do you think it was made for? Families can also discuss exploring. What motivates people to go to places like the South Pole? Does seeing a far-off place on TV or in a movie make you want to go there?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:June 10, 2008
DVD release date:November 17, 2008
Cast:David Ainley, Regina Eisert, Werner Herzog
Director:Werner Herzog
Topics:Science and nature
Run time:99 minutes
MPAA rating:G

This review of Encounters at the End of the World was written by

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are conducted by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.


Our star rating assesses the media's overall quality.

Find out more

Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

Find out more

About our buy links

When you use our links to make a purchase, Common Sense Media earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes. As a nonprofit organization, these funds help us continue providing independent, ad-free services for educators, families, and kids while the price you pay remains the same. Thank you for your support.
Read more

See more about how we rate and review.

About Our Rating System

The age displayed for each title is the minimum one for which it's developmentally appropriate. We recently updated all of our reviews to show only this age, rather than the multi-color "slider." Get more information about our ratings.

What parents and kids say

Write a user reviewThere aren't any reviews yet. Be the first to review this title.


Did our review help you make an informed decision about this product?

Digital Compass