“Into the Inferno,” a new documentary by Werner Herzog, features something that many science-themed documentaries lack – humanity.
Don’t get me wrong – series like “Cosmos” do a marvelous job showcasing the human penchant for discovery. And there are countless film and shows describing the destructive toll volcanoes and the like can exact on civilization. But rarely do movies about volcanoes choose to focus on their creative aspect, not just in the creation of new earth but in the formation of cultural identities as well.
In “Into the Inferno,” Herzog and volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer travel to Indonesia, Iceland, Ethiopia and even North Korea to speak with both with scientists and members of the lands’ indigenous cultures. The stories Herzog documents are as diverse as the regions he travels to, from volcanoes in Vanuatu as means of communicating with the spirit realm to Mount Paektu’s use in the propaganda of Kim Il-Sung. What emerges is a curious and deeply respectful portrait of how one of nature’s most primal forces fits into the philosophies of those who choose to live near it.
Herzog’s narration, with his monotone German accent, combines with the stunning footage of magma erupting from the heart of the planet to create a quite hypnotic spectacle. Because of its more episodic nature, “Into the Inferno” does not seem quite as cohesive as Herzog’s other films (e.g., “Grizzly Man”). Nevertheless, the documentary offers a unique look at the role of volcanoes in myth and culture.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Nick Gonzales is one of The Durango Herald newsroom’s resident film buffs. He welcomes movie recommendations. Follow him on Twitter @lackingzones.