There’s an inherent risk in billing any Robinson Crusoe yarn devoid of tribal councils or empathetic volleyballs as “the greatest survival story of all time.” The tale of Sir Ernest Shackleton, though, is a pretty safe bet: In relating the British explorer’s fortitude amid absurdly brutal setbacks on his 1914 expedition to Antarctica, this IMAX treatment quells its tag line’s hyperbolic tang. Playing at the American Museum of Natural History, Shackleton’s Antarctic Adventure (a two-year ordeal initiated when his ship was trapped and crushed by the frozen Weddell Sea) may not be a definitive telling, but the film’s broad strokes (looming Antarctic seascapes, on-site reenactments) potently suggest the magnitude of the adventurer and his crew’s perseverance.
Among the men was still- and motion-picture photographer Frank Hurley; the inclusion of his haunting plates and clips from 1919’s South (recently restored by the BFI) in Adventure further neutralizes the treacly score and Kevin Spacey’s intense-PBS narration. Indeed, some of the IMAX movie’s strongest moments superimpose Hurley’s quietly devastating work (gorgeous in 70mm) over fluid new footage, juxtapositions that both elide and accentuate the expedition’s scope and hardships. The survival of all involved prompts the triumphant coda of each film, not to mention further explorations. Adventure director George Butler also helmed a feature-length doc (Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition), nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance festival. Then too there’s the upcoming TV flick Shackleton—with Kenneth Branagh as the hardy skipper, it may prove an endurance test all its own.