Into the Inferno

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Into the Inferno Movie Poster Image
Fascinating docu explores volcanoes and scientific passion.
  • NR
  • 2016
  • 104 minutes

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Positive Messages

Looks at the immense impact of the natural environment on the creatures that inhabit it. Details the prevalence of spirituality and religion as man's response to natural events; belief systems enable humans to cope and live effectively with the dangers in their midst. Values depicted: teamwork, determination, resourcefulness, leadership, and community.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The scientists (and filmmakers) reveal deep satisfaction, a boundless commitment to their work and to the joy of discovery. They are courageous, hard-working, and generous with time, ideas, and friendship. The inhabitants of the areas explored are seen as thoughtful, respectful of their environment, and resourcefully cope with the dangers that surround them.


Scenes of the ferocity and destructiveness of volcanic eruptions. Villages are threatened. News footage briefly reveals bodies of those killed. Two fearless researchers are shown investigating the most active of volcanoes; narration explains that they died later during one of their explorations.


Rituals/celebrations are depicted in which tribesmen wear only loin cloths.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Into the Inferno is a compelling, beautifully-produced documentary about volcanoes, the researchers who study them, and the people who live within their shadow. A few scenes depict volcanoes erupting with great force, threatening populated areas, and resulting in major destruction. Brief newsreel footage shows the aftermath with collapsed villages, people in shock, bodies being recovered. The film covers exotic locales, unique tribes and cultures (including one in which villagers celebrate wearing loin cloths), uncommon belief systems, and spends time with some of the field's great experts, who are wonderfully passionate and engaging. Recommended for mature older kids, especially for family viewing.

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What's the story?

INTO THE INFERNO journeys from the Vanuatu Archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean to Indonesia, East Africa, Iceland, and North Korea as it investigates the phenomenon of volcanoes. Director-narrator Werner Herzog, a German filmmaker noted for his uncompromising movies about unconventional heroes and humanity's clash with its natural surroundings, makes this film as much about the people who are affected by the volcanoes as it is about the volatile peaks and their history. The guide is Clive Oppenheimer, a young Cambridge University scientist who takes the audience to villages, cities, deserts, and jungles, all of which lie in the shadow of volcanoes, alive and dangerous. We meet tribal leaders, local volcanologists in research facilities, and world experts in a variety of scientific endeavors. These are not simply "talking heads," but active men and women who bring the audience into their worlds. A stunning example is Tim White, a University of California, Berkeley, paleontologist with whom we spend time actually finding pieces of bone from the first human fossils unearthed after 74,000 years covered in an African desert. 

Is it any good?

With Werner Herzog's estimable respect for his subject matter, and the extraordinary Clive Oppenheimer as guide, this film is science at its most accessible. The volcanoes, of course, with all the surrounding history, magic, myth, and spirituality that have evolved over centuries, are the stars of the movie. But considerable attention is given to the people who are affected by their power. Peter Zeitlinger's camera captures the unmatchable ferocity and beauty of one of nature's most dynamic forces. In addition to the amazing photography, stirring music, and crystal-clear information, Herzog and company were granted access to extensive areas in North Korea. These sequences are remarkable, even as it's understood that they've been carefully approved for Westerner's eyes. Into the Inferno should delight older kids and teens who are already interested in the natural world, and intrigue others who will be engaged by the real-life adventure, danger, and survival that envelope the film's subjects. Highly recommended.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the people who live near volcanoes as they are shown in Into the Inferno. What has helped them adapt to the dangers of the world around them? How were they treated by the scientists and filmmakers who spent time with them? What can you learn from those scientists and filmmakers about respecting the traditions and lifestyles of other cultures?

  • What events have made you personally aware of the power of the nature? What weather patterns and other environmental phenomena (i.e., floods, tornados, earthquakes) impact your life? How has your family and community learned to adjust to those elements?  

  • Think about Clive Oppenheimer's passion as a "volcanologist." Would you describe him as happy? Fulfilled? Is his work important to him? What do you love doing (i.e., playing music, building things)? Can you imagine turning your special interests into your lifetime work? What would you need to do to make that happen?

  • How does the documentary show courage? How does it show perseverance and teamwork?

Movie details

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