Telluride 2016: Werner Herzog's Doc 'Into the Inferno' is Spectacular
by Alex Billington
September 5, 2016
Herzog is back! The German documentary master has premiered his second new film this year (the other being Lo and Behold Reveries of the Connected World) at the Telluride Film Festival. This new one is titled Into the Inferno, and follows Werner Herzog as he examines and investigates a number of different active volcanoes around the world. He travels around with a "volcanologist" named Clive Oppenheimer, getting as close as they possibly can but also investigating the various cultures and indigenous people that remain near these volcanoes. It's a spectacular doc, more meaningful and intriguing than his other recent work. Into the Inferno examines the act of creation, with vivid imagery and utterly engrossing discussions.
Into the Inferno is about more than just volcanoes, but it's also really about volcanoes. There's only 3 active volcanoes in the world right now where we can actually see directly into the Earth's core. The footage of the volcanoes they visit is remarkable and eye-opening, mesmerizing to watch and he often just lets the footage roll on. They even feature a few shots of a French husband and wife team that used to make close-up videos of volcanoes and lava flows and they're jaw-dropping to see. Herzog and Oppenheimer make up a quirky but fun team of nerdy adventurers who learn more and more about humans and the Earth as they get closer and closer to these volcanoes. From there they begin to open up a much deeper discussion about life and death.
Don't expect to be a volcano expert at the end of this film, that's not the point of it. As usual, Herzog usually stumbles upon some interesting story then meanders off for a little while exploring some other concept or culture that fascinates him. One of the craziest parts of the doc is when he ends up in North Korea. It turns out there's a volcano there that has actually been integrated into the country's forced-patriotism and history, appearing in most of the propaganda art found everywhere they go. Herzog shares some other footage from his visit, including shots of their subway system - no one has cell phones, there's no advertising anywhere, no newsstands. It's one of the freakiest looks inside of this country I've seen so far, in a doc about volcanoes.
As is also expected with Herzog docs, he eventually circles back around and reminds us of the philosophical and metaphysical discussions that can arise when we take a closer look at this world we live on. Volcanoes seem to be his reference for life, and creation, not only referencing how the Earth was formed and shaped, but also referencing human beings. Herzog spends some of the film with archeologists in Africa digging up human bone pieces that are supposedly over 10,000 years old. Into the Inferno is as fascinating to watch as it is enjoyable, with incredible footage and thought-provoking conversations. Herzog once again shows how to open our minds to the grandiosity of the universe while appreciating this wonderful planet we all live on.
Alex's Telluride Rating: 9 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing