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'ENDURANCE': ONE LONG WINTER OF DISCONTENT.

Byline: Bob Strauss Film Critic

British explorer Ernest Shackleton had foresight. This is especially worth noting since the final expedition of his career was an abject failure - except in what it proved about the resilience of the human body and spirit.

``The Endurance: Shackleton's Legendary Antarctic Expedition'' shares its name with the ship that brought Shackleton's 28 crewmen, their dog teams and a stowaway Argentine cat to the Southern Polar region where they would be trapped for nearly two years. Not only did endurance mark the men's remarkable ordeal and result in all hands' survival, but Shackleton had enough prescience to bring a professional filmmaker and photographer, the Australian Frank Hurley, along on the 1914 adventure.

More than 100 of Hurley's pictures and a good deal of 35mm film footage was salvaged from the disaster/triumph, and they provide some of the most compelling images in this beautiful and stirring documentary. Director George Butler (``Pumping Iron'') augments the archival material with gorgeous recent footage taken in the far South Atlantic and some apparent re-enactments, as well as interviews with the Endurance endurers' descendants.

While many details emerge - exactly how shifting ice floes can slowly smash a sturdy ship, what an exclusive diet of penguin and seal meat do to men's stomach's (and heads) over the course of many months, what constitutes an act of mutiny under the most extreme (and not, necessarily, nautical) circumstances and much more - the overriding picture that comes into focus is of a man who probably wasn't a very good explorer, but proved to be as superb a leader as the British Empire has ever produced.

A born wanderer, Shackleton was beaten to the South Pole by Norwegian Roald Amundsen in 1911. With no other unclaimed spot left on Earth, he decided being the first to cross Antarctica would be the default feat to still accomplish, and days after the outbreak of World War I set sail for the icy Weddell Sea, from which the expedition would make its landfall on the frozen continent.

One mile from land, however, the sea froze to such an extent that the Endurance became immobilized. The film, which is narrated by Liam Neeson, doesn't explain why the expedition did not simply set off from there, but staying on the ice proved a good decision; had they not known their ship had been crushed after a few months, the men surely would have died waiting for it to pick them up on the other side of the continent.

Anyway, an apparently imperturbable Shackleton led his men long enough through the valley of a shadow cloaked in the most chilling of white-out conditions. They portaged their lifeboats, killed their beloved dogs one by one, crossed stormy seas to the equally inhospitable Elephant Island and then, in one boat under Shackleton's command, a small party navigated through a hurricane to reach the nearest inhabited rock.

And that wasn't even the end of their ordeal. But it is a measure of Shackleton's achievement that, even while their home nations were slaughtering each other's sons on a scale history had never seen before, the German community of a South Atlantic island raised its flags in honor of the British survivors sailing past their shores.

And while it properly, and with admirable restraint, admires the stamina and character strength that enabled the men to all come through the worst nature had to throw at them, the movie also acknowledges the irony that, after their recovery, many of them were lost to the butchery running wild in more temperate climes. ``The Endurance'' ends on a note of mystery, leaving us to contemplate just what such seemingly simple ideas as survival and command might actually mean.

``THE ENDURANCE: SHACKLETON'S LEGENDARY ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION''

(Rated G)

Behind the scenes: Produced and directed by George Butler. Written by Caroline Alexander and Joseph Dorman, based on Alexander's book. Released by Cowboy Booking International.

Running time: One hour, 33 minutes.

Playing: Playhouse 7, Pasadena; Cecchi Gori Fine Arts, Beverly Hills.

Our rating: Three stars.

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Photo:

Ernest Shackleton and his men were lost for two years.
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Title Annotation:Review; L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Nov 16, 2001
Words:685
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