The Christian Science Monitor : 2020-12-07

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ARTS AND CULTURE ‘Fireball’ captures how meteors shape our planet The film probes the passion for things that drop from the sky. film about “visitors from darker worlds,” both bents are necessary. The documentar­y, which debuted on AppleTV+ in November, covers so many geographic locations – from the Yucatán Peninsula to Antarctica – that it also inadverten­tly functions as a kind of travel guide to the planet’s diversity. The filmmakers explore places where meteorites have impacted the Earth. They seek out where the fragments have been preserved and studied, monitored, and venerated. Inevitably, they encounter a range of people whose passion for what has dropped from the sky is positively exhilarati­ng. We are taken to the Chicxulub Puerto village in Mexico, where some 66 million years ago the impact from an asteroid equivalent to thousands of millions of Hiroshima bombs is thought to have wiped out the planet’s dinosaurs. In Western Australia, the Wolfe Creek Crater, the site of another ancient strike, is holy ground for Indigenous peoples. The artist, Kate Darkie, who paints bright mythologic­al panoramas, talks about how families visit the crater to feel close to their ancestors. In Mecca, Saudi Arabia, Herzog was able to procure amateur footage of Islamic worshipper­s crowding inside the Grand Mosque to touch the black stone that many assume is a meteorite and which the faithful believe was brought from heaven by the archangel Gabriel. Alsace, in France, is where a gigantic meteorite hit in 1492, a scant seven days after Columbus arrived in the Caribbean. It solidified the realm of Maximilian I because it was taken as a sign that God approved of his rule. Throughout this cavalcade, Herzog displays his trademark dour puckishnes­s. When an Indian scientist suggests that every element in our bodies was synthesize­d in the stars, his mock-indignant response quickly follows: “I am not stardust. I’m Bavarian!” But he also thrills to the magnified stained-glass window-like images of micrometeo­rites, which he calls “the most beautiful sculptures on God’s planet.” Perhaps the most excitable of the film’s interviewe­es – even more than Princeton physicist Paul Steinhardt, who discovered fivefold symmetry in meteorolog­ical quasicryst­als – is the planetary scientist Brother Guy Consolmagn­o, a resident of the Pope’s summer home. Speaking of the miraculous­ness of the heavens, he says that “to have the ability to understand these things is itself a miracle.” He goes on: “Looking at the stars gives you that sense of out- of-yourself that you need in order to be ready to encounter a god.” There is much more, including a vaguely reassuring discussion with a scientist at NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordinati­on Office whose job it is to defend the planet against asteroid attacks. (Talk about first responders!) There’s also a meeting with Norway’s leading jazz musician, Jon Larsen, whose passion for micrometeo­rites has led to important new discoverie­s. Fingering some cosmic dust, he exclaims, “No human being has ever touched anything older!” The documentar­y ends with a sacred tribal dance performed for the filmmakers and inhabitant­s of tiny Mer Island, located in an archipelag­o between Australia and New Guinea. The last image that we see are lit torches shooting embers, representi­ng the souls of departed islanders, into the night sky. It’s a transcende­ntal finale to a transporti­ng film. “F ireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds” is an awestruck movie about awe. A globe-spanning documentar­y co-directed by Werner Herzog and University of Cambridge scientist Clive Oppenheime­r, it’s about how extraterre­strial rocks have literally shaped not only the Earth but the culture and dreams of its inhabitant­s. Herzog is one of the greatest living filmmakers, both for his dramas and documentar­ies. “Fireball” is his second collaborat­ion with Oppenheime­r – the first was 2016’s “Into the Inferno,” about volcanoes. The two men complement each other perfectly: Herzog, who provides the film’s sinuously somnolent voice- over narration in his best Bavarian tones, has a mystic-rhapsodic temperamen­t, while Oppenheime­r, who, unlike Herzog, is often seen on camera, is more like a hard science David Attenborou­gh type. For a ON FILM BY PETER RAINER ROCK AND HOLE: Evidence of extraterre­strial rocks on Earth are found everywhere from the Wolfe Creek Crater (photo above) in Western Australia to Antarctica, where scientist Clive Oppenheime­r (photo right) shares a meteorite discovery in “Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds.” APPLE TV+ Unrated r 38 THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR WEEKLY | DECEMBER 7, 2020 PRINTED AND DISTRIBUTE­D BY PRESSREADE­R PressReade­ +1 604 278 4604 ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY COPYRIGHT AND PROTECTED BY APPLICABLE LAW