The Last Continent (2008) dir. Jean Lemire
“The Last Continent” (aka “Le Dernier Continent”) has been a sensation in Quebec – a million dollar + box office earner in la belle Province alone – and it’s a documentary, an eco-adventure about a group of scientists who travel to Antarctica to study the effects of global warming. The film opens in English Canada this weekend from Seville Pictures.
Lemire opens the film with a brief history of Antarctic exploration. He makes specific comparisons to the famous Shackleton mission which saw the British explorer’s boat trapped and stranded in ice, near death, before a dramatic rescue. The mission of this expedition is not unlike Shackleton’s. The crew of the Sedna IV is to sail south, anchor beside a reef and encase itself in ice, which will then become their home base for study for the rest of the year.
It’s a seemingly simple plan, but nature and irony strikes back quickly. The winter freeze-over doesn’t arrive when it’s supposed to. This causes much havoc – with only limited freezer space, their food must be rotated between the melting ice floor of the ground and their refrigerator on ship.
For the first two-thirds of the film the crew is in problem-solving mode – troubleshooting one problem after the next, including a dramatic tussle with a late summer storm. But when winter eventually comes, we finally get to see the stunning visual beauty of the environment. Because of the skewed hours of day and night, for certain periods of the year, it’s an almost perpetual dusk. Lemire visualize this anomaly with a fantastic timelapse sunset shot like I’ve never seen before. Instead going down from the sky to the earth, the sun actually moves across the horizon, creating a permanent magic hour, which goes on for hours and hours.
The crew has great fun with the wildlife. Penguin fun is a plenty and there’s one remarkably dramatic scene with a baby seal left abandoned by her mother.
Lemire spends some quality time getting to know the crew as well, which is where some of the most emotional content comes from. Mental health caregiver Mariano Lopez's tearful phone call home to his young daughter is an emotional reminder of the sacrifice the environment asks of its crew.
The title refers to Antarctica as being the last continent on Earth yet to be exploited by man. Despite not having any inhabitants, Antarctica is the place most affected by man’s environmental irresponsibilities. The icecaps have subsided and glaciers are melting and the population of its animal life are dwindling.
“The Last Continent” isn’t as effective as say, “An Inconvenient Truth” in helping opens our eyes to environmental concerns. Science and proselytizing is kept to a minimum. “The Last Continent” is about capturing the pristine beauty of a place, which is indirectly being spoiled and damaged by our malevolent behaviour. Enjoy.