Despite not having a strong central focus and being rather all over the place—quite literally so as it covers volcanoes around the world—Herzog’s documentary remains eye-opening and culturally illuminating as it explores the myths and cults surrounding these fiery beasts of nature.
Dir. Werner Herzog
2016 | USA | Documentary | 104 mins | 1.85:1 | English
PG13 (Netflix rating) for some sexual references
Plot: An exploration of active volcanoes around the world.
Awards: Official Selection (Toronto)
Subject Matter: Moderate – Volcanoes, Nature, Culture
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Werner Herzog has been a fantastic documentarian over the decades, so when I saw that there is a Netflix documentary about volcanoes directed by him, it immediately got into my ever-lengthening shortlist.
Into the Inferno is for most parts an accessible and moderately entertaining work as we follow Herzog and a volcanologist named Clive Oppenheimer around the world where both active and dormant volcanoes exist.
They take us to far-flung locations such as Ethiopia, Iceland and Vanuatu, and in one of the film’s most eye-opening segments, a trip to the closed country of North Korea.
A mix of incredible shots (in 4K no less) of the fiery beasts of nature up close and interviews with people who worship and tell myths about them, Into the Inferno works better as a culturally-illuminating tale than when it dabbles in science and nature.
“It is a fire that wants to burst forth and it could not care less about what we are doing up here.”
One of its problems, however, is the lack of a strong central focus and being rather all over the place—well, it is quite literally so geographically—but narratively, you feel like it had been put together on a whim.
Its weakest segment is probably the one on Ethiopia, where it digresses into palaeontology as a group of scientists dig up the fossilised bones of a prehistoric man, with the links to a nearby volcano rather tenuous.
There is quite a bit of Christian flavour to Herzog’s flawed but still interesting film, what with his generous use of music performed by the Monks Choir of Kiev Pechersk Monastery.