IN THEATERS (SF) – “Lo and Behold…”

rsz_screen-shot-2016-01-21-at-4-07-08-pmLo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World (2016; Dir.: Werner Herzog)

GRADE: C+

By Daniel Barnes

*Opens Friday at the Landmark Clay in San Francisco, the Landmark Shattuck in Berkeley, Osio Cinemas in Monterey, the Camera 3 in San Jose and the Rafael Film Center in San Rafael.

From the “repulsive” corridors at UCLA where the Internet was invented to the gleaming surfaces of Elon Musk’s rocket lab, Werner Herzog’s latest hand-wringer ponders the place of artificial intelligence and robotic autonomy in a world where humans have become increasingly reliant on machines.  As usual, Herzog blurs the line between documentary and fiction by having the interview subjects directly address the camera, often delivering clearly pre-scripted dialogue, and the legendary German director/self-parody makes for a fine narrator and philosophical tour guide.   Unfortunately, Lo and Behold… is a pretty skimpy, borderline get-of-my-lawn treatise (full disclosure: I watched the film on…the Internet!), offering some new stuff (the poetic, nearly spiritual logic of the scientists was especially interesting), a lot of throwaway old stuff (brief suites on Internet bullies and video game addicts feel simultaneously exploitative and prurient), and a whole lot of Gibney-esque (not a compliment!) dread draped in Herzog’s trademark existential exasperation.  It’s hard not to get a little incredulous when Herzog waxes all end-of-days about soccer-playing trash cans, or when he lingers with horror on an extremely frail robot unscrewing an empty jar (“Soon it vill be unscrewing youuuuu,” he seems to whisper), and a Wild Blue Yonder-y stretch that imagines a post-apocalyptic future full of Tweeting Buddhist monks is playful nonsense but adds little in the way of credibility.  A long closing piece where Herzog asks every single person in the film the same annoyingly phrased question (“Could it be the Internet starts to dream of itself?”) required a fair amount of teeth-gritting to conquer.