The heavens dance. From the bottom of the world, where your eyes might freeze in your face, we see stars pulse against seams of luminous dust, all in slow and dizzying rotation. Then come the lights: Ribbons of green unspool and shimmer and whip across the sky, suggesting angels and ectoplasm, strips of silk somehow imbued with bioluminescence. If beauty and revelation is your bottom line, Anthony Powell's rhapsodic Antarctica: A Year on Ice will prove a grand time at the movies.
Powell mostly catches us in the drift of Antarctic life rather than in singular moments. He has rigged up hardy, ingenious cameras to record full days and nights of skies and winds and goofball penguins. Looking up at his starscapes is like looking down at a jeweled LP played very slowly: It's a black and glittering cycle, a cosmic revolution, true music-of-the-spheres stuff.
The vantage is godlike, unconcerned with cold or mere time, which in Antarctica is flattened and abstracted anyway, four sunless months in the winter matched by four without night in the summer. It's little surprise that Powell, the guy who filmed all this -- and has spent nine winters in Antarctica -- often views his fellow humans from something like the same remove.
Powell can't resist time-lapsing footage of the workers at his home base of McMurdo Station, either. In winter, McMurdo's population drops to under 200, and Powell's interviews with them become fascinating. In their isolation they grow pale and a touch dotty, and they have no time for talk that doesn't mean anything. They're in awe, too, but also beat, regular folks toiling beneath the relentless night.