There’s no question that the subject has provided a fresh stimulant to the ever-adventurous director’s abiding inquisitiveness. The vast majority of his interview subjects, most of them very plainly photographed in their workplaces, are brainy guys (and a few women) of a certain age whom Herzog peppers with both straightforward and off-center questions about their expertise and what has arisen from it. (Todd McCarthy, The Hollywood Reporter, January 2016)
LO AND BEHOLD: Reviews
We want the rambling Werner Herzog to follow his muse into strange corners—let lesser documentary filmmakers stick to virtues like coherence. Herzog’s latest, ostensibly about the internet, is divided into 10 sections, each taking on a blend of awe and uneasiness at a radically changed world that’s increasingly lived online … The director’s severe Teutonic-toned accent has become a signature element (lovably so), and it remains an expressive instrument of curiosity, especially as Herzog goes deep into UCLA’s computer labs to confront the very first terminals and coders who, in October 1969, begat the web … Their very first transmission was cut short: an attempt to type login, which was interrupted after the first two letters.
The deepest source of wonder for Mr. Herzog has always been the particular amalgamation of vanity, folly, bravery and genius that makes every individual unique. He is a patient listener with an ability to nudge his subjects off their internal scripts, and like his other documentaries, this one is full of strange, small moments of unanticipated revelation … Whether he is quizzing networking pioneers … or listening to the testimony of “modern-day hermits” living off the grid and away from pervasive electromagnetic radiation, Mr. Herzog communicates compassion and astonishment in equal measure. The internet is an elusive quarry. It’s a marvel and a menace, a banal fact of life and a force for incalculable change.
The film’s various Web experts, visionaries and scientists … offer a brain-tickling inquiry into the Internet’s history, form and function, as well as its vast and still-uncharted potential. It’s an inquiry as philosophical as it is technical, ranging from hypertext inventor Ted Nelson’s using the flow of water as a metaphor for interconnectivity, to Herzog himself posing to scientists the Philip K. Dickian question that might well become the film’s tagline: “Does the Internet dream of itself?” … If it does, then perhaps LO AND BEHOLD … (divided into chapters with titles like “The Glory of the ’Net” and “Artificial Intelligence”) can be understood as both a record of that dream and an attempt to make sense of it.
Any one of Herzog’s subjects could sustain a stand-alone, feature-length documentary, but the director is more interested in breadth than depth here. Still, there’s little refuting Herzog’s gift as a documentarian. Even condensed, his interviews manage to squeeze fresh stories from people and technology exhaustively covered by books and media. An interview with Elon Musk ends with the SpaceX CEO confessing he doesn’t remember his good dreams, only the nightmares. And a monologue by Ted Nelson about the flow of water nearly out-Herzogs Herzog. When Nelson’s interview ends, Herzog tells a vulnerable Nelson that he is sane, and Nelson nearly melts through his office chair.
[Herzog’s] greatest levity manifests itself in his wry asides to speakers, as when he asks Stanford University robotician/educator Sebastian Thrun — famous for his pioneering work on autonomous cars — if robots will ever make movies. When Thrun predicts that they will, but that they won’t be as good as Herzog’s, the filmmaker retorts, “of course not.”