Werner Herzog's curiosity seems to be as boundless as the subject of his latest documentary: the internet, that vast, virtual universe we inhabit with as much ease as our own skin.
Despite its ungainly title, Herzog's "Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World" is an elegant survey of the origins of the information revolution and a shrewd analysis of how the internet has reshaped the world.
It's one of the director's best docs.
Herzog, 73, is an idiosyncratic intellectual who gravitates to subjects that spark his own peculiar imagination. He has made documentaries about Antarctica ("Encounters at the End of the World"), the Chauvet Cave in southern France ("Cave of Forgotten Dreams") and bear enthusiast Timothy Treadwell, who was killed and eaten by the animal he loved ("Grizzly Man").
Herzog's films explore the myriad ways we express our humanity through creative action and foolishness alike.
Marketed as "a humanist history" by network management software vendor Netscout Systems, which financed the film, "Lo and Behold" has Herzog peering into the soul of humanity to discover just how profoundly it has been transformed — reprogrammed — by a form of technology only a few decades old.
"Lo and Behold" opens with a cute, playful prologue that likens the birth of the internet to the creation of the world in the Book of Genesis.
Herzog takes us to the little computer science lab at UCLA where the revolution kicked off in 1969.
It all began with a rudimentary connection between two computers — one on the UCLA campus in Los Angeles and the other in Palo Alto — web pioneer Leonard Kleinrock explains to the filmmaker. The two terminals exchanged the first two letters of the word "log" before one of them crashed.
"Lo!" Kleinrock says. "Lo and behold!"
Herzog divides the film into 10 self-contained personal essays on topics such as artificial intelligence, social media, and space exploration. Each time, we also get an object lesson on the dark side of the web — video-game addiction, cyberbullying, the disappearance of privacy.
While Herzog is on solid ground when it comes to the history, he enters speculative territory as he tries to prognosticate where the net will take us in the future. He presents several worst-case scenarios: What if the whole web crashed because of a solar flare? The world economy would crash, and we'd be reduced to living in caves again.
Herzog is a confessed Luddite who is allergic to all things associated with computers. But he displays an adept understanding of the topic — he asks incisive questions — and an extraordinary willingness to expand his knowledge. He narrates "Lo and Behold" with his famously calm, serene voice, inhabiting the doc as an avuncular presence.
Put your faith in him, and Herzog never fails to deliver.
No matter where he takes us, Herzog inspires viewers to follow and learn.
What "Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World" • 3½ stars out of four • Run time 1:38 • Rating PG-13 • Content Brief profanity and some thematic elements