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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
The Endurance (2000)

"Fate seemed absolutely determined to thwart us."
- Ernest Shackleton

Review By: David Krauss  
Published: September 15, 2003

Stars: Liam Neeson (narrator)
Director: George Butler

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: G for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:37m:45s
Release Date: September 02, 2003
UPC: 043396006874
Genre: documentary

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A AA-B+ A-

DVD Review

His crew called him The Boss. He ruled his ship with an iron hand, but respected his men more than any mission he undertook. And though he was better known for follies than feats, Ernest Shackleton proved his mettle and merit by transforming a disastrous string of events into what many term history's ultimate survival story. In the face of overwhelming odds, the veteran British seaman embarked on his third attempt to reach the South Pole in the summer of 1914. He named his ship The Endurance, because, he said, "By endurance, we conquer." Few captains have uttered more prophetic words.

Shackleton set sail with a thrill-seeking crew of 27, all poised for the adventure of a lifetime. It's safe to say the men got far more than they bargained for. Shackleton returned to England two years later, failing to achieve his goal, but what transpired during the intervening months remains an astounding tale of courage, ingenuity and man's indomitable will.

A fascinating documentary, The Endurance chronicles Shackleton's brutal yet inspirational odyssey. Combining actual footage shot by the mission's photographer (Frank Hurley), archival photos, artistic renderings created by crew members, recorded reminiscences, diary readings, and interviews with family members and historians, director George Butler (Pumping Iron) masterfully pieces together the formidable conditions that beset Shackleton and his men. More current film of the unforgiving, desolate locations—shot in color—adds an immediacy to this historical tale and brings the crew's unfathomable ordeals down to earth.

"An ambitious, driven, restless man," Shackleton dreamed of leading a small party across the Antarctic continent for the first time. The expedition should have been, according to narrator Liam Neeson, "the last great journey in the heroic age of discovery." But when The Endurance became hopelessly mired in an impenetrable ice field, the adventurer shifted his focus from the pursuit of personal glory to ensuring his crew's survival. He fought not only the external pressures of the encroaching ice (which eventually destroyed the ship), but also the internal issues of maintaining morale and harmony among a group of frightened, exhausted men living in horrendous conditions for months on end. Shackleton's unflinching optimism and never-say-die attitude saved the day, motivating and soothing his crew as they soldiered on, desperately seeking a happy ending to a mission that was both cursed and blessed. Cursed due to ever worsening circumstances and dire prospects, but blessed because, despite the inconceivable hardships, Shackleton amazingly lost not a single life.

Butler's obvious reverence for his subject spills into every shot of this meticulously crafted film. The primary source material is a marvel of technique, especially considering the hostile conditions under which it was shot, and Butler defers to it whenever possible. The unspoiled polar landscape has undergone little change since 1914, enabling Butler to seamlessly segue between old and new footage. With sweeping shots and angled perspectives, he showcases the spectacular rugged scenery—blue-tinted icebergs, majestic snow-covered peaks, vast craggy ice fields, and freely roaming penguins and seals—while giving us the faintest taste of the devastating elements Shackleton's men encountered and endured.

Over the course of the film, the viewer comes to admire Shackleton's grit, determination, compassion, and leadership skills. Only once during the entire voyage was his authority ever questioned, and the brief rebellion was amicably resolved. At times, it would have been easy (and understandable) for Shackleton to surrender to fear and panic, to embrace self-preservation and abandon his men, but he never did.

After 85 years, The Endurance finally gives an under-appreciated explorer his due. Although Shackleton failed to traverse Antarctica, Butler's film ensures that the far more important story of survival, duty, and strength will not be soon forgotten.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio, The Endurance benefits from an almost spotless anamorphic transfer. Switching between scratchy (and at times jerky) black-and-white silent footage, staid interior interviews and lush color landscapes surely presents numerous optical challenges, but the transitions remain smooth and transparent throughout. The breathtaking scenery is beautifully rendered, with natural hues and just enough grain to preserve the documentary look. Frank Hurley's still photographs possess lovely depth and contrast, and the interviews are all razor sharp. There's a lot to look at in The Endurance, but this solid transfer delivers in every respect.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Pro Logic track unobtrusively underscores the story with a warm, resonant sound that fills the room. Michael Small's music (also playable on an isolated audio track) swells and soars, but rarely overwhelms the story. Liam Neeson's measured, mellifluous narration comes through cleanly, as do the comments from various interviewees, despite some thick accents.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Anne Frank Remembered, Vertical Limit
Isolated Music Score with remote access
2 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director George Butler
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 00h:20m:17s

Extras Review: Columbia has bulked up The Endurance with an array of interesting supplements that add extra depth and context to the film. Unfortunately, the one disappointment is George Butler's commentary track. In a soft, slow, droning manner tailor-made for insomniacs, the director imparts a few noteworthy tidbits, but nothing essential. He lavishes praise on the original movies and photos taken by crewman Frank Hurley, and notes how the expedition was populated with far more "ordinary men" than similar ventures, making the 100% survival rate even more astonishing. He also pats himself on the back, proclaiming The Endurance "the most remote location shoot ever done in the history of movies." More succinct highlights can be gleaned from the "making-of" featurette (described below), so don't waste your time with this commentary, unless you crave a nice nap.

Stay awake, though, for the worthwhile Beyond The Endurance section, which contains four top-notch featurettes that greatly enhance the film. Kicking off the collection, The Tale of The Endurance: Insights from the Author is narrated by Caroline Alexander, who wrote the book that inspired the documentary. The 16-minute featurette includes additional footage and focuses mainly on elements of Shackleton's character, his motivational tactics, and deep understanding of human nature.

In the 17-minute In the Wake of Shackleton: The Making of The Endurance, director Butler discusses the unit's pre-production polar survival class, the construction of replica lifeboats which were used to duplicate Shackleton's experiences on the rough seas, and how the modern film crew couldn't overcome many of the same natural obstacles that Shackleton faced and conquered with far more primitive equipment. Some breathtaking scenic vistas, especially the prolonged sunsets and pale blue icebergs, and more lingering wildlife shots make this featurette a truly worthwhile view.

Iconic Images: Frank Hurley Remembered is an entertaining 12-minute interview with the noted photographer's elderly twin daughters. With delightful candor and enthusiasm, the two discuss their father's life and work, his keen eye, and relate some amusing family stories. Past and Present: The Descendants of Shackleton's Crew Gather for the Opening of the Exhibit chronicles the relatives' reaction to a 1999 American Museum of Natural History exhibition of Endurance artifacts and photos. Watching the group mingle and view the items on display (many of which the families had never seen before) lends this 10-minute featurette a surprising emotional slant.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

The Endurance is the best kind of feature documentary, combining stirring themes, larger-than-life characters, remote and staggeringly beautiful locales, well preserved source materials, and lively interview subjects. The first-rate video transfer and substantive extras enhance this fascinating story of gritty, against-all-odds survival. Highly recommended.


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