I love and admire Werner Herzog - he can kind of do anything. Given the opportunity to make a film about Antarctica, he set off without any particular person or place to document and had three weeks to come back with enough footage to make into a finished film, and sure enough, he did it. The secret is, he knows what kinds of questions to ask, what kind of oddities to explore, and most importantly, how to be open to what's around him.
For example, when interviewing a rather taciturn penguin expert (and obviously irritated at having to shoot footage of penguins in the first place) Herzog asks if penguins can be gay; a few minutes later, he asks if they can be insane or deranged after having to live within penguin society. We then see, amid the packs of penguins dutifully walking to their feeding ground, one lone penguin seemingly driven by perversity to start walking into the center of the continent, towards mountains miles and miles away, far from any food or water. The penguin is heading, implacably, towards its own death and the scientists inform Herzog that if they were to pick up the penguin and try to redirect it, it would just turn around again on its original heading. The juxtaposition of images - cuddly, awkward creature and immense continent of doom - is amazing, and something you only can find when you know what to look for as a filmmaker, and are interested in peeling off the usual layer of eco-sentimentality from the science documentary genre.
This isn't to say that it's a revisionist documentary, as we still get lots of staggeringly beautiful landscapes of Antarctica's icebergs, volcanoes, and (best of all) underwater realms, resembling an alien planet. Herzog combines his interest in these kind of huge, oceanic vistas with his interest in eccentric human behavior, and he finds plenty of that as well, as McMurdo Station is apparently one of the key collection points for inspired dreamers and weirdoes in the world. Ironically even Herzog finds his fill of globe-trotting eccentrics and their stories, as one woman, telling her life story, gets the dry voiceover commentary, "Her story goes on forever."
Ultimately Herzog's project isn't about the crazy people in a research station or the pretty landscapes, but about the two together, the figure in the landscape, from a distanced perspective - he asks the question if humankind will be able to survive itself and its own insistence on heading towards destruction, not with melodrama or hope, but just as a question of fact, yes or no, and whatever conclusions we draw - and what emotions we feel - are ours alone.