In August 1914, the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, comprised of 27 men under the leadership of Sir Ernest Shackleton, set sail from England in the wooden ship ENDURANCE. The plan was to land a team on the Antarctic Continent, and the men to dogsled across the frozen landmass to the other side via the South Pole. However, one day's sail from the Antarctic shore, the vessel became entrapped in the ice pack, and was subsequently crushed and sunk. Shackleton and his group were stranded on the drifting floes out of contact with and beyond the ken of the rest of the world. The expedition's grueling, heroic journey back to civilization, culminating in an 800-mile voyage across a stormy, frigid ocean by Shackleton and five companions in a small, open boat, is the subject of this documentary based on the book by Caroline Alexander.
The spell-binding nature of this film is due to the masterful mix of material from several sources: archival 35mm footage, still photos and drawings from the expedition itself, narrated excerpts from diaries, radio interviews with survivors and filmed interviews with their descendents, and contemporary film footage shot along the route of the men's ordeal. One is amazed at the quality of the 35mm moving images shot by Frank Hurley, the team's photographer. What you see is not a re-enactment - it's real, and as crisp as if shot only last week instead of almost ninety years ago.
Besides being the visual narrative of an extraordinary survival story, ENDURANCE is also a show-and-tell presentation on the essence of leadership. Two years after departing England, Shackleton successfully brought all his 27 men back from the brink of extinction. Not a single member of the venture was lost. (Ironically, they arrived back in a Europe entangled in the throes of World War One, in which some of the Expedition's survivors were subsequently killed.)
For a fuller presentation of the subject in text, I would strongly recommend ENDURANCE: SHACKLETON'S INCREDIBLE VOYAGE by Alfred Lansing.