Werner Herzog's latest documentary, "Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World" should have been a documentary series, and may have started with that structure in mind. Presented by Netscout, the film offers a survey of the internet, its implications, and the questions surrounding it, utilizing interviews with various experts, probed by Herzog and emitting the wonder and enthusiasm his interviewees are apt to give themselves over to. Illuminating the humanity among internet afficionados may be the film's greatest strength, as its coverage winds up being uneven and at times only skims the surface.
The film opens with Leonard Kleinrock giving the grand tour of UCLA's Host computer, where the first internet connection was made, and the titular message "Lo" sent from one computer to another. It is absorbing from the start. Herzog treats his subjects with enthusiasm commensurate to that of those presenting them, and Kleinrock's introduction instills the film with a profound sense of awe, the awe he felt in 1969 on the brink of monumental change, and the uncertainty and inability to predict that change, and a similar sentiment of awe and uncertainty permeates the film, as the questions posed move from the past to the present and take aim at the future.
Most of the ten chapters are fascinating. Highlights include hacker turned cyber security consultant Kevin Mitnick's story about using cellphone metadata in the late nineties to monitor FBI agents pursuing him, as well as Kleinrock's brief lecture on the mathematics of the internet which leaves the average viewer baffled and mystified. The chapter examining life without the internet seems particularly prudent.
More often that not, the many chapters of the film feel cut short, with the exception of its shortest chapter on the evils of the internet. This is for the best, though. How far can a conversation go with someone who considers the internet, not the people on the internet, but the internet itself, to be the antichrist?
Elsewhere, the information feels stunted, the questions barely answered, and the intent questionable. The chapter covering internet addiction had a comical effect on some of the audience, and didn't broach the science of addiction as an explanation for how one can become addicted to the internet. The examples were shocking, no doubt--a family who neglects their living child to the point of starvation while tending to their virtual one--while others were more familiar, such as a college student who spent every waking hour playing video games. I've roomed with that student, and most people know someone like that. But the exploration of internet addiction as a brain disease like any other addiction is left out, and the film moves briskly along to the next chapter.
For those who haven't spent much time thinking about our interconnectedness with the internet, this film is a necessary introduction. For others, fascination and excitement will give way to mild disappointment, and leave you having to further pursue these inquiries on the internet on your own time.
The title doesn't lie. This is Herzog in full reverie mode. He approaches the subject with his trademark awe, reverence, and enthusiasm; it just would have been nice if he spent more time with each of those ruminations.