"That slope may look insignificant but it's going to be my destiny."
It's punishingly overlong and at times feels like a watered-down version of 'Aguirre, The Wrath Of God' but the sheer spectacle involved in this film along with a strong cast and relatively engaging story makes this one to remember.
It's wholly unique and would almost be a gimmick if it weren't for how grand it is- pulling a steamship over a steep mountain because, hey, Herzog is crazy. The undertaking pays off and makes for some great footage and it is crazy to see a ship being filmed as it essentially crashes (and injures several people) for the sake of five minutes or so of footage. This film has a sense of adventure like no other and that applies to the off-screen antics too- everything about this film is wild.
The performances are strong but whether Kinski should have been cast yet again by Herzog for this one is debatable- his performance is typically strong of course but his distinctive presence doesn't stand out as much here as with the previous Herzog/Kinski collaborations. Apparently, Jack Nicholson was considered for the role which may have been interesting indeed, The supporting cast are strong with Huer... Huereqeq..., I can't type it but THE GUY WHO PLAYED THE COOK, provides the laughs as the typical drunkard and Cardinale gives a sweet performance as Fitzgerald's other half.
The plot is strong, with a fair amount of things going on outside of the mountain-climbing 300 ton ship but a fair amount of the film is similar to 'Aguirre...' whereby they are travelling by sea and are surrounded by the threatening indigenous populations around them but for the most part, the film is unique.
The issue is the film's length- Herzog has a lot of relatively short films so to see one clock in at over two and a half hours is fairly unusual. It's a fine length for a film of course but Herzog's slow shots and basic story-progression makes this one difficult to get through while being fully engaged. It's understandable why a lot of the footage wasn't cut considering how difficult it was to capture but there's some relatively unimportant parts of the story that could have been cut to speed things up.
The dialogue is okay but it's nothing special whatsoever and as is often the case with Herzog, it feels fairly rushed and could maybe use some finessing. This is a visual film though and so it's not a big issue.
Overall, it's a good film but it just can't justify its length and it lacks the power that some other Herzog pieces have. It's also not as visually exciting as a whole- the ship scenes are brilliant but there isn't as much eye candy elsewhere as one might expect from Herzog. It's still a must-see for anyone with a passing interest in Herzog or Kinski but its length makes it overbearing and thus not particularly appropriate if you're after a quirky little action/adventure to pass the time.