After taking a general, critical look at the pros and cons of the Internet in Lo & Behold: Reveries Of The Connected World, which also came out this year, Werner Herzog turns back to nature to focus on volcanoes.
Released through Netflix, Into The Inferno presents itself as sort of a follow-up to Herzog's own documentary Encounters At The End Of The World since that's where he first met volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer who appears in and co-directs this latest outing. The film takes a look specifically at active volcanoes and how their isolated life affects the people living around them. The real theme explored here being the spiritual impact left by nature and Man's need to attach a higher meaning to his mysterious, timeless surroundings. Typically, the documentary isn't predictable as Herzog travels the world not only looking at volcanoes themselves, capturing beautiful images in the process, but also reflecting on significant events in history relating to volcanoes like unexpected eruptions, unusual belief systems or even the birth of mankind.
Herzog's journey takes him to Ethiopia where Clive Oppenheimer joins an archeological dig, Iceland, Indonesia and North Korea among others. There are stunning images of magma boiling inside volcanoes throughout as well as compelling archival footage, some of which captured by French volcanologists Katia and Maurice Krafft who died tragically in an eruption. But the footage of North Korean pageants Herzog picks up in that country is equally fascinating as its leader-based belief system offers a unique look into spirituality. General themes Herzog ponders include life, death, religion, nature, mankind, eternity, culture and, last but not least, chicken churches because a Werner Herzog movie wouldn't be complete without its share of bizarre imagery. This is the filmmaker's most accomplished and interesting documentary since Encounters At The End Of The World and you can tell these volcanoes were on his mind for quite a while.
In a year packed with meaningless and underwhelming blockbusters, there's literally no reason to miss Into The Inferno: this is not only a really well made documentary by one of the best filmmakers around but it's easily one of the best films of the year and one hopes an Oscar is coming the director's way even if it's unlikely those statuettes matter to him much.
Excellent, compelling work.