Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds
Trust Werner Herzog to round off 2020 by reminding us of the ever-present possibility of our extinction by meteor strike. In his latest documentary, Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds, everyone’s favourite deadpan German (sorry Henning Wehn) travels the world exploring meteorites, their recorded history and cultural impact. He approaches the subject with the wistful fascination he’s adopted since trading the violent actor Klaus Kinski for mild-mannered volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer as his principal collaborator, sharing directing duties and delegating the interviews to his scientist sidekick.
The duo meet bespectacled experts and amateur eccentrics all over the world from Hawaii to Antarctica, including a Norwegian jazz guitarist who collects space dust and a Vatican astronomer who responds to the question of how the church would react to a meteor strike with a reassuring sentiment: “We’ll pray.” The film hops between disciplines as sporadically as it shifts locations, mixing science, anthropology, mysticism – you name it, Herzog has a memeable aphorism on it. “We are not going to torture you with details,” he assures us in the midst of a geological discussion.
One frequently forgets Herzog is behind the camera until he interrupts an astronomical interview to remind us, “I am not stardust, I’m Bavarian,” prompting nervous laughter from a foremost planetary scientist. Beyond these insights into the unpredictable filmmaker (he likes 1998 disaster movie Deep Impact and dislikes dogs), we learn what meteors mean for different cultures: to 15th-century Christians they were “emails from God”; to Melanesian tribes they carry the souls of the deceased; and to certain NASA astronomers they are “the vermin of the solar system,” photobombing their observation of planets.
There are almost certainly meatier meteor movies out there, but what the feature lacks in focus and rigour it makes up for in passion and personality. Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds blends extraordinary phenomena,“looking eternity in the eye”, as one interviewee puts it, with personal moments of humanity, where we witness the ecstasy of a man discovering a meteorite or meet the people who monitor the skies all night for signs of approaching meteors. Combined with stunning drone photography and ethereal sounding music, this makes for surprisingly comforting viewing at a time of existential crisis, almost like manna from heaven.
Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds is released on Apple TV+ on 13th November 2020.
Watch the trailer for Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds here: