Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Movie Review: "Into the Inferno" (2016)

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"Into the Inferno"
Director: Werner Herzog
Year: 2016
Rating: NR
Running Time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

Director Werner Herzog explores numerous volcanoes across globe and looks at the cultures of the people who live nearby them.

"Into the Inferno" is a documentary written and directed by Werner Herzog and heavily features volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer. They travels the globe from Antarctica to Indonesia and many places in between looking at the most active volcanoes in the world. He and his crew interview the local population near each active volcano, looking at their culture and traditions, many of which revolve heavily around these mountainous fire-beasts. All of this is set against a dramatic classical operatic score and Herzog's own epic narration.

We have only seen a few of Herzog's documentaries, and there is no doubt that he has a tremendous ability to capture radiant, breathtaking visuals. This time around, he explores various cultures and their relation to nearby volcanoes that many worship or revere as sacred. Though this is the core subject matter of the documentary, we feel it lacks some focus. Herzog, ever the showman, often goes off on a series of long-winded tangents about "retarded reptiles" (his words, not ours) and North Korea. The majority of the film winds up being about the historical traditions and religious practices about appeasing volcano gods. Oddly enough, one of these volcano spirits is an American G.I. named John Frum, which sounds a little absurd, but we really don't want to mock their religion and neither do Herzog and his team. The film also spends a lot of time focusing on the aforementioned North Korea, so much so that it actually starts to feel like North Korea in general becomes the central focus of the documentary, and not the volcano he is there to watch erupt. This lack of focus definitely hurts the overall presentation of "Into the Inferno."

The pacing is also quite slow as much of what is covered here would have been better left on the cutting room floor in exchange for more imagery of, well, volcanoes. Herzog inserts himself into some of these scenes, but we personally believe this would have been more interesting if Herzog had taken a backseat with his philosophical mumbo-jumbo and simply showed video footage of volcano eruptions for 90 minutes. Call it simple, sure, and maybe it would have been more engaging on a mass appeal level, but as fans of film, we know reach and appeal are not why Herzog makes movies and documentaries. He traipses across the globe looking for things and places untouched, fascinated by the most dangerous and unexplored subject matters. Unfortunately, it doesn't help that the best footage that truly shows the destructive power of volcanoes comes from recycled footage featured in older documentaries.

This isn't a hard subject to cover. Volcanoes are probably one of the most awe-inspiring things in nature. Their sheer, raw power, their instantaneous destructive capabilities, as well as their captivating beauty is enough to humble anyone and makes us realize how much more powerful nature is than we ever could be. Herzog is able to capture this in a few instances and it's in those moments that "Into the Inferno" really shines. We appreciate the effort Herzog puts into his projects and admire the passion he has for film making, and while he treats his subjects with respect as an outside, he often veers too far off track and gets too complex and Werner Herzog-gy for his own good.

My Rating: 6.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 6.5/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 88%
Do we recommend this movie: Sure, why not?

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