Dir: Werner Herzog.Ger-Fr-UK. 81mins.
At times in WernerHerzog's docu-drama The Wild Blue Yonder, as the glittering-eyed BradDourif rants at the camera, audiences could be forgiven for thinking that theyare being buttonholed by an extra-planetary version of Samuel TaylorColeridge's Ancient Mariner.
Dourif plays an alien fromAndromeda who has been stranded on Earth for years. A grizzled, febrilepresence, he is in the grand tradition of Herzog's outsiders, with theintensity of a Klaus Kinski and the vulnerability of a Bruno S. The irony isthat he is speaking sense: Herzog uses him as a commentator, pouring scorn onhumankind's faltering attempts to create a new community in space.
The Wild Blue Yonder defies easy categorisation. It's partly an eco-fable,warning us of how we are destroying our planet. With its references to the CIAand the Roswell Experiment, it has elements of the political thriller. Theshots of the astronauts look as if they're taken from some NASA documentary.(Herzog thanks NASA on the credits 'for its sense of poetry.')
Thefootage of seascapes and mountains is reminiscent of upscale natural historydocumentaries. The many scenes in which scientists and mathematicians babble onabout saving humankind have a satirical undertow. Dourif is always on hand toremind us these eggheads are spouting nonsense.
But there is also a strongstrain of Herzog's trademark romanticism here. It is quite possible to ignorewhatever points the film is making about space travel and environmental damageand to delight in the awesomely beautiful imagery.
This is accompanied by someequally striking music. The soundtrack combines the work of Dutch composer andjazz cellist, Ernest Reijseger, Senegalese singer Mola Sylla and a Sardinianshepherd's choir with old recordings from Handel's opera Xerxes.
With its essayisticstructure and strange lurches in tone, the docu-drama may also leave somespectators scratching their heads. Nonetheless, The Wild Blue Yonder(warmly received by critics at its screening in official selection in Venice)serves as a reminder that Herzog remains a formidable and challengingfilm-maker.
Theatrical prospects forHerzog's 'science-fiction fantasy' (as he styles it) may be hamperedby the fact it has already appeared on TV in several territories and alreadyreceived such widespread exposure.
Combined with his recentdocumentary Grizzly Man (recently released in the US), the film couldeven pique the curiosity of a new generation of filmgoers who don't simply knowhim for his past glories. In its more inspired moments, it combines music andimagery with a grace reminiscent of passages in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: ASpace Odyssey.
There is a pathos and comedyto the storytelling too. Dourif is an alien in blue-collar guise: an inhabitantof what seems to be a ghost town. The streets are empty. The mall is closeddown. (In some ways, the scenes are reminiscent of Herzog's equally eerie 1977documentary La Soufriere, in which he and his crew visited the island ofGuadeloupe after the entire population has been evacuated to avoid a volcanoeruption.)
From this shabby backdrop heexplains how humankind's attempts to find a new home in space is bound to fail.Earth may be becoming uninhabitable (whether due to war or disease is neverquite clear), but so is The Wild Blue Yonder. The astronauts arrive at thisdistant, underwater planet, unaware that its inhabitants have gone on thereverse journey for precisely the same reasons.
The film's message is clear:space travel is useless - what we need to do is clean up and preserve our ownplanet.
Werner Herzog FilmProsuktion
West Park Pictures
Werner Herzog Film
Christine Le Goff
The astronauts of STS-34
Capt Donald Williams
Dr Ellen Baker