In the Footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton
Shackleton's Antarctic journey of survival is eclipsed by his trip from oblivion to pop-culture phenomenon
Seattle- August 20, 2002
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But the Nova documentary is perhaps the most fully evolved telling of the tale yet. Skillfully rendered modern shots combine with Hurley's original images to give a sense of immediacy and reality to the environment. Remarks from the actual descendents of Shackleton and other Endurance crew members blend with intelligent commentary by bona fide historians to provide context for the subtleties of the story.
"The Endurance story is inspiring in an elemental way," notes Kelly Tyler, one of two producers of the Nova film. "There is an elegance and simplicity to it: these men got into trouble and they saved themselves. That kind of self-reliance is rare in modern life. It prompts people to contemplate their own mettle.
"And it's simply a great ripping adventure yarn, too. Things get improbably worse at every turn, and Shackleton and his men repeatedly rise in the face of adversity. It's the embodiment of the adage, 'truth is stranger than fiction.'"
Tyler, who's interest in Antarctic exploration goes back prior to the Nova film, and who will return to the frozen continent this season for more research, brings a deep perspective to the subject. For Tyler, the survival of the party is a reflection of the pure force of Shackleton's personality.
"Shackleton seemed to be at his best in a crisis, with a remarkable clarity of judgment and optimism. It would be hard to over-rate the force of his personality. Roland Huntford, who wrote a definitive biography of Shackleton, refers in the Nova film to the 'flame of leadership' that burned within him. It's an elusive quality. Partly, it's a sense of authority that commanded respect and loyalty. People who met him wrote of a personal magnetism that was almost palpable. His dynamic energy was immensely engaging, not only winning him friends and allies but winning over critics and skeptics. It was more extraordinary than mere charm."
The apparently irresistible force of Shackleton's personality, and his rare skill at leadership, is what drives the current fascination with the man. But Tyler is careful to point out that the crew of Endurance ultimately reached safety because the men themselves were extraordinary hand-picked by Shackleton and their leader figured out way to keep them working together even when their prospects were hopeless.
"It was the combined efforts of Shackleton and his men that ultimately pulled them through," Tyler said. "It's been reported that Shackleton was quite whimsical about picking his men. But the officers, crew and shore party of the Endurance were exceptional. There are the obvious stand-outs: skipper Frank Worsley's preternatural navigational skill; carpenter McNeish's superb craftsmanship, second in command Frank Wild's solid leadership, and Tom Crean's seamanship."
But in the end, the fate of the entire crew rested on the shoulders of their charismatic leader.
Peter Potterfield, MountainZone.com Staff