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About the Film

Home > IMAX Theater > Shackleton

About the Film
In December 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton set sail with his twenty-seven-man crew, most of whom responded to the following recruitment notice:

Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold.
Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger.
Safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.
—Ernest Shackleton

During the Antarctic journey, ice conditions were unusually harsh, and the wooden ship—which Shackleton named the Endurance after his family motto, Fortitudine Vincimus, “by endurance we conquer”—became trapped in the pack ice of the Weddell Sea. For ten months, the Endurance drifted, locked within the ice. When the pressure of the ice crushed their ship, Shackleton and his men were stranded on ice floes in hopelessly barren, frigid conditions, camping on ice and snow. Their clothes were torn to rags, and they were left with meager food and shelter.

Adrift in the Pack Ice
In this scene from the reenactments of Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure, the Stancomb Wills lifeboat is trapped in the pack ice of the Weddell Sea.
© 1999 WGBH Educational Foundation. Photo: Kelly Tyler

To sustain morale, Shackleton kept everyone busy—and everyone equal. University professors ate beside Yorkshire fishermen. The men participated in group sing-alongs and toasts to loved ones back home. Through all of these distractions, Shackleton inspired a sense of camaraderie, telling his crew that strength lay in unity.

When the floe on which they were living drifted into open water, the men sailed the three small lifeboats they had salvaged to a bleak crag called Elephant Island. They were on land for the first time in 497 days; however, the island was uninhabited and provided no hope for rescue.

Recognizing the severity of the physical and mental strains on his men, Shackleton and five others immediately set out to take the crew’s rescue into their own hands. In a twenty-two-foot lifeboat named the James Caird, they accomplished the impossible—sailing 800 miles through the world’s worst seas to South Georgia Island, where a whaling station was located. This feat is considered one of the greatest open-boat journeys of all time.

The Climbers
In Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure, modern climbers re-create Shackleton's original traverse of South Georgia Island..
© 2000 WGBH Educational Foundation. Photo: Susanne Simpson

The six men landed on an uninhabited part of the island. Here, their last challenge was to cross nearly thirty miles of uncharted mountains and glaciers, considered impassible, to reach the whaling station on the other side. With just three days of provisions, two compasses, a rope, and a carpenter’s adze to be used as an ice ax, Shackleton and two others made the trek. In August 1916, twenty-two months after the initial departure of the Endurance, Shackleton returned to rescue the men on Elephant Island. Not one member of the twenty-eight-man crew was lost.

For more information, visit the official Shackleton's Antarctic Adventure Web site.

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