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Case Number 21934

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The Last Place On Earth

BFS Video // 1985 // 390 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // August 3rd, 2011

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All Rise...

Appellate Judge James A. Stewart occasionally makes expeditions for ice cream.

The Charge

Frederick Cook: "So you took the South Pole. That's quite a coup. How was it?"
Roald Amundsen: "Cold."

Opening Statement

When Norway's Roald Amundsen and Britain's Robert F. Scott set off on their separate attempts to reach the South Pole, the Antarctic landmark was The Last Place on Earth. At least, it was the last place humans hadn't been. If you know your history, you know Amundsen made it. Considering how Scott's trip turned out, it's amazing that anybody bothered.

The miniseries gets its take on the story from Roland Huntford's Amundsen and Scott.

Facts of the Case

Roald Amundsen (Sverre Anker Ousdal, Wide Blue Yonder) and Robert F. Scott (Martin Shaw, Inspector George Gently) plan their separate South Pole expeditions, each put under pressure by the other. Even though they and their men share a hut through a rough Antarctic winter, they're still rivals.

The Evidence

I don't like giving away spoilers, but in this case, I have to make an exception, because it's failure that makes The Last Place on Earth a compelling drama. The early chapters, as the two rivals get ready for their expeditions, are slow. The actual race to the South Pole picks things up, but Robert F. Scott's troubled return to base is the part that's gripping. Although the first two episodes of the seven-episode miniseries probably could have been condensed easily into one, the earlier chapters do one thing: they create sympathy for both men, so you'll be both elated and a little unhappy with either result.

The point at which Scott and his polar crew arrive at the South Pole to find a tent and a note from Roald Amundsen is where things get strange. The British band has to deal with getting lost, severe weather, madness, and starvation. Watching Martin Shaw as Scott write in his diary, knowing that he's saying goodbye to friends, family, and colleagues he'll never see again is sad, made even more so by his surface show of confidence. At the same time, Sylvester McCoy (Doctor Who), who's been playing an annoyingly chipper crew member throughout, turns that earlier performance on its ear with a descent into despair. Sverre Anker Ousdal as Amundsen also turns in a strong performance, full of quiet optimism throughout, despite an awareness of the odds; but there's nothing like a real-life classic tragedy to bring out the best in actors. If William Shakespeare were still around, his Captain Scott would be more famous than King Lear.

The Last Place on Earth abounds with familiar faces in smaller roles: Max Von Sydow, Hugh Grant, Brian Dennehy, and Bill Nighy appear.

The picture is grainy, with additional flecks, and the constant white of the Antarctic landscape (actually Canada and/or Greenland, where it was filmed) really brings out any flaws. The sound is clear but not spectacular.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

Animal lovers won't care for The Last Place on Earth very much. There's an occasional glimpse and a lot of talk about butchering dogs and horses for food, something that really happened.

If some plodding storytelling at the start is likely to undermine your interest, even with a gripping conclusion, you might just get bored.

People who do enjoy The Last Place on Earth will be disappointed that there are no extras. BFS could have unearthed diary excerpts or at least cobbled together a timeline for text features, and a DVD-ROM could have even given readers both men's books.

Closing Statement

I wasn't expecting much from The Last Place on Earth after two chapters, but by the end, I was glad I watched. One of history's most compelling tragedies is acted out brilliantly.

If you want to learn more, I've included links to the books by Scott and Amundsen on Project Gutenberg.

The Verdict

Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 85
Audio: 85
Extras: 0
Acting: 98
Story: 90
Judgment: 90

Perp Profile

Studio: BFS Video
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• None
Running Time: 390 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Drama
• Foreign
• Historical
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None

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