What a strange experience to see Werner Herzog's documentarydramawhatever movie the Wild Blue Yonder, particularly on the big screen. But it's the kind of strange experience I didn't regret in the slightest. This is a practically great film of visual magnificence and imagination, where Herzog, still on his never-ending search for adequate & new images (unlike, as he says, ones that are overused or boring in the mass media), makes his 'science-fiction fantasy' into one that blurs the line between fantasy and reality, between what is expected.
Actually, I didn't really have any idea what to expect, and until I read a review of the film in the NY Times, I thought much of the film raised a lot of questions for me. Is what Herzog showing us for "real", as it were, or just all fantasy? Apparently, he was able to obtain ultra-rare NASA footage from a flight with a crew out in space, showing their mundane times up in their shuttle, and, more crucially, an under-ice Antarctica expedition of the "planet" that the film is sort of about.
Seeing the trailer to the film though, and from what I remembered from it, was what really through me off. In fact you might take a look at the trailer and have no idea what the hell the picture is about; all you see are interspersed images of underwater and space flight, and Brad Dourif as Andromedan alien talking to the camera in weird language. But seeing him in the film it's not weird at all. Indeed Dourif, for the sort of spaced-out but totally all-together-upstairs alien-man that Herzog presents us with, is perfect for the role, and is the best performance (so to speak) that he's delivered in quite a number of years of his long, terrific career as a character actor.
He tells us of his time on his planet, then coming here, and then finding out that the government- after doing a bad thing unearthing the Roswell crash landing- are planning to seek out planets unknown in space. He sometimes narrates, sometimes appears on screen- and at one point delivers a speech about how human beings screwed themselves over in domesticating pigs, stirring up civilization as we know it- and it's sometimes very, irreverently funny, though never insincere or untruthful in his way.
But Dourif isn't the only reason to see the movie, and I was glad that Herzog chose to not keep it all about him, or 'it', or whatever. Actually, there's an equally weird if somewhat more scientific explanation for certain 'worm-holes' and 'holes' and such by an astronomer (Franklin Chang-Diaz) that reminded me of my astronomy class in college only far more, uh, 'interesting'. It's in-between these quasi-interviews that we get the real VISUAL side of the picture, and I put those words in caps for a reason.
This is really extraordinary, if imperfect, in terms of capturing sights that some of us have never seen and most of us really haven't seen much outside of National Geographic channel junkies. We get the views into space, which are balanced with the shots inside the spaceship (all taken by people from NASA, though at first I couldn't tell if maybe Herzog had a little extra budget going). There's even a really incredible moment where certain sights are shown from deep space, which may just be gasses or brightly colored formations, but they're really stellar. And then come the shots under ice, which at first I couldn't believe totally how they were done.
In this case, in a sense, Herzog is even better as an editor this time as opposed to just getting the images down. He has to choose what to get through all of this via DP Henry Kaiser (who also deserves a tremendous amount of credit). But there are little moments that stunned me, even after I knew where the location really was. For example, during the 'Tunnel of Time' scene, where the astronauts go through a sort of "portal" through the ice up to who knows where, they almost seem to turn into particles or other and the disappear. It's really breathtaking for that moment.
And then, in true Herzog fashion, he ends the film on nature itself, of which his Andromedan comments 'this is the new prehistoric age, hundreds of years from now'. This all being said, the Wild Blue Yonder wont appeal much for everyone, least of which for those stuck to the normal bounds of logic and such. Truth be told, I didn't find everything completely awe-inspiring with the long-stretches underwater and in space, and the musical accompaniment is a mixed bag of sweet violins and overbearing signing (which maybe is the point, as it sounds alien). Plus the side of the Stephen HawkingX-Files sort, where Andomedan Man and physicians respectively come off as being too paranoid (albeit an alien of course) and too confusing with the formulas & numbers.
Still, if you're a fan of Herzog, or even just into science fiction, its surely worth the look, and if not on DVD even better on the big-screen. It might even be one of my favorites from the director, at the least in his docu-hybrid form of film-making.
Review by MisterWhiplash from the Internet Movie Database.