Sunday, August 3, 2008

SHACKLETON (Not Rated, made for TV)


In our neck of the woods, the story of Sir Ernest Shackleton and his doomed Antarctic expedition is pretty well known. One of our “community read” books last year (in conjunction with local libraries) was Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing, and I think one of the books about the (mis)adventure is required school reading at some point. I’m not sure why Maine seems to have this Shackleton-thing: maybe it’s an affinity for snow-related tales.

If you don’t know the story, here’s the basic set-up:
In December 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton set out from England with a crew of 27 men on one of his four expeditions to the Antarctic. Unfortunately, his ship, The Endurance, became trapped in ice only a month later, not terribly far from their ultimate destination. They lived on board – slowly draining their supplies and perhaps losing some of their sanity – through both spring and summer thaws which failed to free the ship. The ice eventually claimed the vessel, and the crew moved to living (I should probably say, “barely surviving”) on the ice before Shackleton and a small party set out for help. This last chapter of a fascinating story that spanned nearly two years may be the most harrowing and exciting; it’s really hard to believe what these guys went through. (Just imagine: GORE-TEX® and polar fleece hadn’t been invented yet!)

Starring Kenneth Branagh, and originally made for A&E television, this epic, true story is riveting, and solidly conveys the importance of character traits such as responsibility, courage, and tenacity. Viewing time is roughly 200 minutes (it’s on two discs), so it makes for a great multi-night viewing experience. (There may have been one or two “Masterpiece Theater”-ish points where Keegan started bouncing around the living room a bit; we just stopped it and took a break and resumed later when he could focus again.)
There are mature themes here, such as Shackleton’s unfaithfulness to his wife; an amputation; and a sudden, explosive f-bomb towards the end, which, as Keegan put it, was “sort of understandable.”

There is also a fascinating documentary on the same subject: The Endurance (2002), which I had the pleasure of seeing at the Castro Theater just before we left SF. From an adult POV, it’s completely engaging and uses actual photos and bits of film from the expedition in telling the story. I remember leaving the theater with a deep chill, after living in Shackleton’s frozen shoes for a couple of hours. This is available at our local library, and may be at yours, too.

The documentary is, of course, safely devoid of the dramatic bits that might earn the A&E production a PG-13 sort of rating, but it may not be so successful in capturing the attention of kids under 10. Both versions, IMHO, are well worth viewing.

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