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Herzog explores the pros and cons of technology in fascinating 'Lo and Behold'
A scene from "Lo and Behold." - photo by Josh Terry
LO AND BEHOLD, REVERIES OF THE CONNECTED WORLD 3 stars Werner Herzog; not rated, likely PG-13 (language); Sundance

Werner Herzog could probably get people to pay to listen to him read out of a phone book. The filmmakers trademark German accent and deadpan wit have become that iconic. But when you combine that voice with great content, you get one of the highlights of this years Sundance Film Festival.

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World is Herzogs attempt to explore the history of the Internet, celebrate its triumphs and speculate on its future. Its also a warning, and a reminder of how dependent our civilization has become on technology.

Over the course of 98 minutes, Herzog breaks his subject into 10 categories. Early on, they create a beginning-middle-ending arc, but after speculating on the end of the Internet, he continues to discuss a variety of sub-topics that feel more like a checklist than a narrative.

Its the films only major weakness. Lo and Behold is a fascinating journey, loaded with insight. Rather than focus on style, Herzog stays fixed on his content. The film is essentially a sequence of talking heads sharing observations on technology while Herzogs all-powerful voice guides them along.

We open at the dawn of the Internet, where professor Leonard Kleinrock shows us the very first Internet node, built in 1969, and still tucked in the corner of a benign room at UCLA. The machine couldnt even complete its first communication, hence LOGIN became LO. Professor Kleinrock finds the error to be very appropriate.

From here we move on, skimming the early days when everyone who had an email address was published in a printed directory, to our day, when collaborative systems are allowing people to design molecules and create autonomous cars.

But the Internets dark side is shown as well. One vivid passage tells the story of father who, after losing his daughter in a violent car crash, was horrified to have images of its aftermath emailed to him. (Out of respect to the family, and the viewer, Herzog spares us the images of the victim.)

We also go to a remote site in West Virginia where the Internet is suppressed so it wont interfere with radio astronomy transmissions. The site has also become a haven for a handful of people who experience medical complications from Internet radiation.

As Herzog looks to the future, he toggles back and forth from the potential of artificial intelligence to the doomsday warning of a world that could lose everything with a badly timed solar flare. He talks to Elon Musk about the colonization of Mars, and talks to computer hacker legend Kevin Mitmick about the vulnerabilities built into our own human nature.

The content is fascinating on its own, but it gets a boost from the personalities Herzog puts on the screen. Energetic interviewees like Kleinrock and Mitmick are almost as fun to listen to as Herzog himself.

But the director gets plenty of time to shine, dropping periodic Herzogisms to remind you who is behind the camera. Whether hes describing repulsive hallways or lamenting a missed opportunity to talk about a malevolent dwarf video game character with an Internet addict, Herzogs wit has an amusing way of holding his documentary together.

Much of Lo and Behold will feel familiar, as it touches on issues anyone who has spent time on a computer has considered at one point in time. But the new insights and the act of putting it all together makes for a compelling experience.

Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World is not rated, but would likely draw a PG-13 for profanity (including two uses of the F-word). Running time is 98 minutes.
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