Directed by: Werner Herzog – Featuring: Bob Kahn, Elon Musk, Sebastian Thrun, Ted Nelson, and other leaders of the technology world
To paraphrase a biblical quote (no disrespect intended) “the geeks shall inherit the earth”. Never has this seemed truer than in recent years, when those historically teased for being nerds now control much of our day to day lives, through the technology and innovations they’ve developed.
Unquestionably this rise truly began with the birth of the internet, and here Herzog ponders the impact of the world wide web, and the developments in technology since it’s inception, including gaming, robotics and AI. It’s actually somewhat ironic that, were it not for the internet, you wouldn’t even be able to read this review, and so much of our lives is wrapped up in the web that it was only a matter of time before someone undertook a project like this.
Herzog is without question a fantastic filmmaker, but this is an incredibly vast subject for anyone to fit into just over 90 minutes. As a result, he breaks it into 10 chapters, starting (obviously) with the beginning and working all the way through to the future. This gives the documentary a cohesive narrative – particularly for viewers who may not be especially tech-savvy and struggle to keep up a bit (because make no mistake this documentary will blind you with science.)
However, this technique also means that some areas get less attention than others. For example, when he looks at the dark side of the internet, he interviews one family who had a bad experience. However, a glance at any news site indicates that there are numerous people on a daily basis suffering because of internet bullying etc. Equally a segment on people who live remotely, because they suffer illness living in the technological world due to a genuine condition, is fascinating but, I felt, not in-depth enough. We learn nothing realistically about the condition, and instead get their anecdotes.
In fact, the segments given the most screen-time, and by default the most credibility, are those looking at robotics and the future. This is all well and good, but it means that you never really feel like you’ve fully got to the heart of all the topics. And while all the contributors are deeply knowledgeable in their fields, and explain themselves well, Herzog’s contribution is at times a bit clunky, and he doesn’t always seem objective about the subject, even volunteering rather excitedly to travel to Mars at one point, as it is being lamented that they can’t get people to go, resulting in a rather bemused looking contributor.
For what he is attempting, Herzog does a great job, and this is a fascinating, if extremely technical, watch. However, each chapter almost merits its own documentary, and it would be nice to see him perhaps revisit some parts of it in more depth.
While those of a technological disposition, with a genuine interest in science and robotics, will get the most from this, for the man on the street it offers a fascinating, albeit complex, insight into just where our world is possibly going.
Opens in the IFI on October 28th!