United Nations inspector Laura Summerfield (Victoria Ferres) had been called out to a location in Bolivia and travels with two other colleagues, Dr Cabani (Gael García Bernal) and Dr Meier (Volker Michalowski), by aeroplane to the country's main airport. Along the way her feathers are ruffled, to put it mildly, by Cabani's sexist behaviour, prompting her to change seats on the overnight flight so she does not have to sit next to him, but once they reach the destination things get a lot more disruptive. First, they cannot find their luggage, and as the building empties of passengers and even staff, they are at a loss of what to do until someone, calling himself Arisitidis (Lawrence Krauss) introduces himself - and more trouble.
Director Werner Herzog had an interest in nature that was not one to simply appreciate its beauties, as he was more captivated with how formidable it could be in its overwhelming power; he appeared to accept that mankind had their own contribution to that, but Mother Nature would always emerge triumphant, adapting to the changes wrought by us and our uses and abuses of our environment. He must have felt that despite all his warnings that he delivered by the medium of his documentaries, and indeed some of his fiction (or fictionalised) works, nobody was really listening to him, so Salt and Fire had the mood of a man growing increasingly frustrated that too few were taking him seriously.
In truth, Herzog had become if not quite a figure of fun by this point in his career, then a character easy to parody with his Bavarian accented English voicing doomladen pronouncements about what he regarded as unequivocal tenets of living in the modern global community, but were now treated as hailing from some eccentric old uncle muttering away to himself about setting the world to rights. Well, if you do show up as a baddie in a Tom Cruise movie or lampoon yourself in a cartoon about penguins, you will run the risk of coming across as less a good sport or actually that figure of fun you have come to be portrayed as in articles and media. Therefore when it is time to get serious, you may find people still laughing.
Make no mistake, Herzog was perfectly sincere in his view of how the world was on a precipice, be that from the effects of man-made global warming or, as here, a supervolcano that had the potential to exterminate vast swathes of life on this planet should it erupt - or rather, when it does erupt, as there was no should or could about it. In this film, which posed as an eco-thriller though it was more of a finger-wagging, ecological lesson for your stupid, stupid minds, we travelled to a real volcano which we are told contained the power to more than disrupt human life, though before we got there Herzog gave his cast a lot of dialogue to speak. This tended to ease the suspense as Laura and her colleagues are kidnapped at the airport and taken to a charming old house in the jungle where she is lectured by lead ecowarrior Matt Riley (Michael Shannon).
It was accurate to observe that much of this came across as stilted, as if the actors had not been given time to grow comfortable with their roles and were spouting the dialogue without getting a handle on its implications until the very end. That first two thirds were likely to turn off all but the director's most diehard fans, which you cannot imagine was his intention, yet such was his dedication to the intellectual and viewing life through that prism of pressing intelligence it was more he could not help himself and ploughed ahead, leaving damn few taking notice of what were very reasonable concerns. If you did make it through to the final act, you would find another lesson, almost presented as a parable from some scripture, as Laura is abandoned on salt flats we are informed are growing at such a rate that they have the ability to lay waste to the entire planet: there is no balance of nature, it has overbalanced and it may be too late to do anything about it. The conclusion was enough to make this worthwhile, though the impression was Herzog was preaching to his disciples and most others would hope he would start making those deadpan jokes. That are not really jokes. Music by Ernst Reijseger.
Eccentric German writer/director known equally for his brilliant visionary style and tortuous filming techniques. After several years struggling financially to launch himself as a filmmaker, Herzog began his career with the wartime drama Lebenszeichen and surreal comedy Even Dwarfs Started Small. But it was the stunning 1972 jungle adventure Aguirre, Wrath of God that brought him international acclaim and began his tempestuous working relationship with Klaus Kinski. The 1975 period fable Heart of Glass featured an almost entirely hypnotised cast, while other Herzog classics from this era include Stroszek, the gothic horror Nosferatu the Vampyre and the spectacular, notoriously expensive epic Fitzcarraldo.