Director: Werner Herzog
Writer: Werner Herzog
Cinematographer: Simon Werry, Paul Berriff, and Rainer Klausmann
Producer: Paul Berriff, Werner Herzog, and Lucki Stipetić
by Jon Cvack
I would urge anyone to who loves Werner Herzog who hasn’t seen this movie to avoid reading any further. Don’t read what the movie’s about, just grab your favorite pipe or drink, turn the volume up as high as you can, and get ready to have one of the craziest, frightening, and beautiful experiences you’ll ever have with a movie.
Going into this film, I realized I only read the two sentences of the synopsis, which said the film examined the aftermath of the first Gulf War. Below this I would have seen that the movie is a mostly silent film, featuring only two interviews with local Kuwaitis, with one being entirely in Arabic, and the other featuring - in pure Herzog style - a woman whose child has stopped speaking since the war after seeing their father murdered, who’s only sentence since has been to declare, “Mommy, I don’t want to speak anymore.”
From there, what we receive are some of the most devastating and awesome images ever captured by a documentary film, with powerful classic tracks playing over a soaring camera moving from the bombed out towns and vehicles, and into grand vistas of the Kuwaiti desert, covered in pools and rivers of fresh oil as gigantic fires spewing from the wells sending massive plumes of black smoke far into the air, often with dozens of fires blazing in all directions. Given all I’ve said about CGI recently (such as The Last Crusade), it’s seeing moments like this, knowing they’re completely real, that left me in awe for the entire 54 minute run time. It left me thinking of the scene from Jarhead, as the oil wells burn bright and high in the night, causing oil to rain down upon the men, which I always thought was an exaggeration, and now realize didn’t even come close to capturing what occurred.
The images look post-apocalyptic, and thus was Herzog’s mission. The essay explained that Herzog didn’t want Discovery channel saying that it was about the Gulf War’s aftermath since as it failed to convey what Herzog was attempting to accomplish - which was examining the world’s trajectory toward destruction. What we watch looks straight out of science-fiction; as though impossible to occur ever on Earth. Herzog observes it as a harbinger of things to come, and a warning to all who continue to support unnecessary wars.
Then begins the films most fascinating segment, which are the hundreds of firemen and the dozens of big machinery and water hoses they use to try and tame the flames. They spray endless amounts of water toward the flames, bringing in a backhoe to smother it with dirt, spraying its shovel to cool it down as it digs into the pit of the flames to smother them in dirt and sand. With nothing working, they load a fifty gallon drum full of dynamite, placing it on a type of cantilever as the machine backs it into the well. The camera stands what seems to be a mile away, and then the drum explodes. The fire is extinguished and they move onto the next one.
We go on to watch as the oil flows between man made trenches, flowing for miles in all directions, covering the desert in vast black lakes. With the flames contained, though still flowing wildly, we watch the men attempt to put on the stuffing pod and rod, as the oil pours down upon them, using whatever means and massive machines necessary to gain back control. Like little kids, I think any fan of documentaries enjoys watching big machinery being used to solve complex problems - whether it’s a factory line making tennis balls, or putting out oil fires. We never get to hear what the men say, or who they are. They wear masks and helmets, with one captain coming in with a ski/oxygen mask combo, looking straight out a bad scifi film.
BELOW: Assuming most reading this are on their phones, imagine this on a big screen
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