By Jonathon Norcross
Werner Herzog’s new globe-trotting documentary about meteors feels like a Nat Geo TV special narrated by an existentialist-turned-standup comic. If that sounds condescending, I mean it as a very sincere compliment. Fireball is mystical, contemplative, and perhaps most surprisingly of all, hilarious.
Herzog’s despair has always been amusing out of context (such as when he bitterly declares in Les Blanks’ Burden of Dreams, “The birds are in misery. I don’t think they sing, they just screech in pain.”), but in this film, he is self-deprecating and tosses out one-liners like a chain-smoking comic at the Borgata. It adds an unexpected layer of enjoyment to a film that might otherwise be too scientific and/or bleak.
There is, as always in Herzog’s films, a sense of doom pervading Fireball (Herzog once quipped that the title of his 2011 film Into the Abyss could be the title of all of his films). Meteors caused one extinction-level event and could bring forth another. But rather than dwell on this thought for 90 minutes as some familiar with Herzog’s work might expect, this dread is superseded by the thrill of discovery and adventure.
Herzog takes us on a trip around the world, from Antarctica (also the subject of his superb film Encounters at the End of the World) to Norway, Hawaii, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Italy, and India. In so doing, he connects all these disparate places, cultures, and religious beliefs to a shared fascination with fiery rocks that plummet to earth from the heavens. While these alien objects sometimes foretell apocalypse, they also unite humanity in a sense of wonderment and discovery. This seems to be the primary focus of Herzog’s film and rather than wade into the muck of despair, Fireball celebrates the inquisitiveness that compels all of humanity to turn its gaze towards the sky.
Apple TV+ has acquired the broadcast rights to “Fireball,” as reported by DEADLINE.
Toronto International Film Festival – Q&A w/ Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer co-directors of “Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds”