Apple TV+ review: Werner Herzog goes global in ambitious 'Fireball' documentary

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"Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds," the new documentary from Werner Herzog and Clive Oppenheimer that hits Apple TV+ November 13, arrives highly anticipated.


"Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds," premiering globally on Apple TV+ on November 13.


When Nonfics, a website that covers the world of documentary filmmaking, made its list at the beginning of the year of its most long-awaited nonfiction films coming in 2020, editor Christopher Campbell listed Fireball before all others. The only caveat was that he wasn't sure the film would actually arrive in 2020.

Arrive it has, as Apple announced in July that it had acquired the film for an Apple TV+ release. Fireball is a winning documentary that combines beautiful images with the sort of compelling narration with which Herzog has long been associated.

Fireball has an outstanding hook. Herzog and Oppenheimer, who are credited as co-directors, travel the world, visiting places that have been struck by meteors, comets and other objects from space, in some cases many years ago.

The duo also explore the religious and cultural traditions in each place that have emerged around these arrivals, while contemplating the possibility that a future object could do even greater damage to the Earth.

All around the world


"Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds," premiering globally on Apple TV+ on November 13.


It's been said that Herzog is the only filmmaker in history to have shot on all seven continents, and he visits nearly all of them again in Fireball. The film goes everywhere from Mexico to Antarctica to Norway to Hawaii to Australia to even the hajj in Mecca, which is not a place that's often filmed for documentaries.

The filmmakers also visit a lab, in South Korea, which features mostly small meteors that have fallen to Earth.

At each stop, Oppenheimer interviews experts -- who range from charming eggheads like Neil deGrasse Tyson to outright cranks -- while Herzog monologues on the soundtrack, in the meditative, German-accented voiceover that's become his trademark.

Throughout, there's breathtakingly gorgeous cinematography, thanks to Peter Zeitlinger, who had previously shot 14 other films with Herzog, including Grizzly Man. This is definitely one that's preferable to watch on a large TV rather than a mobile device.

We're meant to wonder whether some other celestial object will strike us, and the filmmakers even insert footage of the climactic apocalypse in the 1997 action movie Deep Impact. That film's director, Mimi Leder, went on to executive produce the Apple TV+ series The Morning Show.

The world of Werner

Clive Oppenheimer and Werner Herzog behind the scenes of
Clive Oppenheimer and Werner Herzog behind the scenes of "Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds," premiering globally on Apple TV+ on November 13.


If you're new to Herzog's work, he's a 78-year-old German who has made dozens of films, both fiction and nonfiction, since getting his start in the early 1960s. His best-known films include Aguirre the Wrath of God and Fitzcarraldo, and 15 years ago he made Grizzly Man, one of the new century's best documentaries. That film told the story of Timothy Treadwell, the man who went to Alaska to live with the bears, and ended up eaten by them.

The filmmaker has also had the occasional viral moment, such as the time he ranted about chickens, and even played the villain in the Tom Cruise movie Jack Reacher and has an on-camera part in Disney's The Mandalorian.

Herzog previously teamed with Oppenheimer, who in his day job is a Professor of Volcanology at Cambridge University, on previous documentaries. The pair have worked on titles like 2007's Antarctica adventure Encounters at the End of the World, and 2016's Into the Inferno, which explored volcanos around the world.

Awards potential

Clive Oppenheimer with Mark Willman and Joanna Bulger at the Pan-STARRS Observatory, Haleakal, Hawaii in
Clive Oppenheimer with Mark Willman and Joanna Bulger at the Pan-STARRS Observatory, Haleakal, Hawaii in "Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds," premiering globally on Apple TV+ on November 13.


Fireball joins an impressive Apple TV+ documentary slate for the year, that also includes Beastie Boys Story, Boys State and Bruce's Springsteen's Letter to You. It seems highly likely that at least one of those will notch a Best Documentary Oscar nomination, and Fireball and Boys State look like the two favorites.

But even if it doesn't win awards, Fireball is a documentary that would seem to lend prestige to Apple's nonfiction efforts. While it seems to have been produced via a collection of production companies prior to Apple's involvement, Fireball was probably unusually expensive to produce by documentary standards.

Herzog is exactly the type of filmmaker, and Fireball exactly the sort of project that Apple should be getting behind at this stage.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 7
    fred1fred1 Posts: 751member
    Yes, this is one of those moments when I wish I were a subscriber. One of the others was when the Apple TV+ movie with Tom Hanks was released. It’s just that it’s not often enough to actually subscribe. 
  • Reply 2 of 7
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 551member
    fred1 said:
    Yes, this is one of those moments when I wish I were a subscriber. One of the others was when the Apple TV+ movie with Tom Hanks was released. It’s just that it’s not often enough to actually subscribe. 
    You could just sign up for a month, then quit. No one is making you join forever. $4.99 for a quality movie and documentary that interest you is still 1/4 of what you’d pay at a theater. 
    edited November 2020 tmayBeatswatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 7
    tmaytmay Posts: 5,083member
    Japhey said:
    fred1 said:
    Yes, this is one of those moments when I wish I were a subscriber. One of the others was when the Apple TV+ movie with Tom Hanks was released. It’s just that it’s not often enough to actually subscribe. 
    You could just sign up for a month, then quit. No one is making you join forever. $4.99 for a quality movie and documentary that interest you is still 1/4 of what you’d pay at a theater. 
    The level of effort to sign up is slightly less than the mental effort to decide to quit, hence the hesitation to sign up.

    The key to the success of any subscription service is to be able to provide must watch content for almost every subscriber right before they decide to cancel. The amount of data that they have on each customer is massive to be able to accomplish that.

    So, what service is going to host that famous Christmas Movie, "Die Hard", this year?
    Japheyentropyswatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 7
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 551member
    tmay said:
    Japhey said:
    fred1 said:
    Yes, this is one of those moments when I wish I were a subscriber. One of the others was when the Apple TV+ movie with Tom Hanks was released. It’s just that it’s not often enough to actually subscribe. 
    You could just sign up for a month, then quit. No one is making you join forever. $4.99 for a quality movie and documentary that interest you is still 1/4 of what you’d pay at a theater. 
    The level of effort to sign up is slightly less than the mental effort to decide to quit, hence the hesitation to sign up.

    The key to the success of any subscription service is to be able to provide must watch content for almost every subscriber right before they decide to cancel. The amount of data that they have on each customer is massive to be able to accomplish that.

    So, what service is going to host that famous Christmas Movie, "Die Hard", this year?
    Agreed. That’s why I usually cancel immediately after signing up. That way, if I change my mind, it’s just a click of a button. That tactic has backfired on me occasionally, like when Apple News+ launched they didn’t give the full month for free. It ended as soon as I canceled. Oh well. 

    Lol, Don’t get me started on Die Hard. That was my favorite Christmas movie for years and everyone made fun of me. Now, it’s a whole thing and is everyone’s favorite? 24 hour loop...edited? No thanks. 
    Yippee-Ki-Yay Melon Farmer. 

    edited November 2020 tmayentropyswatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 7
    fred1fred1 Posts: 751member
    Hmmm. You’ve got me thinking now. Maybe a one month Apple TV+ binge over the holidays. I also have to watch by connecting my MacBook to the TV with an HDMI cable, but maybe it’s worth it. 
    You do scare me a bit, though, with the whole unsubscribing scenario. 
    Die Hard? How about “A Christmas Story” with Darren McGavin. Classic for a reason!
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 7
    I’ve been an Apple TV+ subscriber since launch and have been watching everything (apart from children’s content), even some content that’s not my usual cup of tea, like Hala, Little America, etc. I’ve always felt satisfied at the end, because even content that I don’t find particularly compelling, always came through as exquisitely well crafted and produced.

    Last night I watched Fireball, and I couldn’t help to feel that, for the first time, I’ve actually “lost my time” with the Apple TV+ content. I’m trying to be fair, but I don’t know how else to express it: it felt like half a dozen minimal budget YouTube videos were unceremoniously stitched together by a kid using iMovie for the first time.

    And also, on the principal photography, what’s up with the long (so very long) close ups on people’s faces, with no dialogue? It felt uncomfortable watching, and I expect it didn’t fare better for the camera subject. The woman artisan who painted the crater had to suffer through a 20 second close up of her face, with a damn fly bothering her to boot, for no reason whatsoever. What was the filmmaker intent? Did he expect her to spontaneously combust? Or did he just like the look of someone being scrutinized from their appearance and way of life?

    I’ve seen that stunt pulled out in countless documentaries, usually covering some tragedy. I expect it is to “increase the drama”, or something to that effect... but in my most humble opinion, it’s just lazy filmmaking.
  • Reply 7 of 7
    chasmchasm Posts: 2,340member
    For those who might wish to give Apple TV+ a try, I should give you fair warning: while not every program may "grab" you, if you give it an honest and open-minded try I don't think you'll find it AT ALL hard to justify spending less than you do on a cup of coffee to keep the service around. It's **FIVE** bucks for a month. There is virtually nothing in this world that provides that much value for that tiny an amount of money. And of course if you have recently (the last three months) bought any new Apple hardware you're getting a year free. Now that's my kinda trial!

    People reading this thread probably like documentaries, so I should also mention that there are quite a number and all of them are quite good, from Home to Tiny World and The Elephant Queen and others. All that said, cancelling if and when you decide to do so is exceptionally easy, as are any subscriptions you have through the App Store.

    On a mobile device, tap the App Store icon, tap your picture, tap Subscriptions. On the Apple TV directly, click Settings, click Users & Accounts, and click Subscriptions. On your Mac, click the App Store, click your name, sign in with your Apple ID password, then scroll down to Subscriptions and click "Manage." Cancelling is easy and instant, whether you're cancelling Apple TV+ or Disney+ (as I just did).

    Me, I'm keeping Apple TV+ for the foreseeable because the things I like on there are substantive, gorgeous-looking, and very original. It's certainly no Netflix or Disney+, but the shows it does have are very well-made, usually thought-provoking, stunningly gorgeous on HDTV and 4K, and a bit different from anyone else. It's a really good value for money, which is why I'll likely continue it as part of an Apple One bundle once the free trial gets close to expiring. YMMV, but I feel I'm getting good value from it. And there's no risk in giving it a try.
    watto_cobra
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