Werner Herzog makes documentaries for the general public. You may be unfamiliar with them, but his way of directing and narrating makes it easy to understand even the more scientific ones, that coming from someone else might seem a bit too “out of your league”. That’s both his strength and weakness, and might have those who are interested in a more scientific conversation turn away by cutting off the deeper intellectual theories.
Herzog, most recently seen on set of The Mandalorian – yes, he’s a man of many talents – wants to discuss meteorites and their connection with us. In his newest documentary Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds, he reunites with University of Cambridge professor Clive Oppenheimer, with whom he explored volcanoes for Into the Inferno. Together, they travel the world in search for craters, while exploring the mythology of meteorites in different cultures, history and their significance in modern science.
Oppenheimer interviews specialists in his own unique exciting way. From Western Australia’s Wolfe Creek Crater and its importance to the Indigenous Australians, to discussing the probability of organic matter in meteorites being the key ingredient for life on our own planet on top of the Ramgarh Crater in Rajasthan, India. Fireball combines some incredibly fascinating (archival) footage with interviews, while Herzog, with his Bavarian accent, points out the obvious, like when an Antarctic scientist unknowingly bends over in the background of some footage, exposing his rear end. One of many moments in which Herzog uses his dry and simple description of places and situations – always keeping it real.
Even though the documentary is engaging with interesting subjects that aren’t easily discussed in a big budget documentary, it does lack some sort of cohesiveness to make it look less like a compilation of interviews, and more like a well-constructed film. Herzog’s film, soon to be seen on Apple Tv+, will appeal to those who can’t resist documentaries with breathtaking scenery, the third act on Antarctica is unreal, and in which we learn about research that’s so obscure it makes you want to watch an entire separate report on it.
One of those subjects is set in Oslo, Norway, where former jazz musician, Jon Harsen and geologist Jan Braly Kihle investigate micrometeorites who can be found everywhere on the planet. Micrometeorites are the oldest matter there is, “it’s like looking eternity in the eye“, says Harsen. These magnetic particles might come from other galaxies or far away solar systems, and it’s Kihle who photographs these with a 2000 – 3000 x magnification to get high resolution colour photographs, exposing the true identity of these treasures from space. The passion and excitement all these expert specialists share is extremely contagious. While they talk to Oppenheimer about astronomy, cave archaeology, and billion years old “droplets of fiery rain” (condensation out of a nebula), the film later also dives into the traditions of Mayan astronomers and Papuan tribal elders.
Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds doesn’t dig as deep as you’d expect from a documentary about these otherworldly objects. Nonetheless it’s still an entertainingly educational easy watch that could spark viewers’ interest in investigating otherwise unknown work into the secrets of the universe.
Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds is set for a late 2020 release date on Apple Tv+
TIFF20 Review – ‘Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds’
Reviewed online (as part of Toronto International Film Festival), September 16, 2020. Rating: TBC. Running time: 97 min.
PRODUCTION: An Apple Tv+ release of a Sandbox Films, Werner Herzog Filmproduktion, Spring Films production. Producers: André Singer, Lucki Stipetic. Executive producer: Richard Melman, Greg Boustead, Jessica Harrop, Anna Godas, Oli Harbottle.
CREW: Directors: Werner Herzog, Clive Oppenheimer. Screenplay: Werner Herzog. Editor: Marco Capalbo. Cinematography: Peter Zeitlinger. Music: Ernst Reijseger.