In the brilliant recent documentaries Grizzly Man and The White Diamond, quirky German director Werner Herzog has made the artificiality of non-fiction an overt theme, largely by coaching real interview subjects until they become well-rehearsed, B-movie-level actors. Herzog's The Wild Blue Yonder goes the opposite way. Using footage from NASA missions and Arctic deep-sea exploration, Herzog constructs an alternate history of American space travel, imagining a scramble to find a new world after the Earth becomes uninhabitable. On its own, a random shot of a police-escorted truck convoy may be fairly benign, but when accompanied by the frazzled voice of Brad Dourif, explaining that what we're seeing is a misguided mission to transport a downed spacecraft from Roswell, the whole endeavor becomes more ominous.

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Dourif appears on-camera frequently in The Wild Blue Yonder, standing in the middle of a California ghost town and telling the audience that he's one of a pack of alien explorers who came to Earth eons ago, after they spoiled their own world. The story of his journey and the story of "our" journey become interchangeable by design, and as Dourif rants about the mistakes that all civilizations make—like building shopping malls before there are any customers—The Wild Blue Yonder strays further and further from comprehensibility.

But then, that's probably what Herzog has in mind. The Wild Blue Yonder has a small message to deliver about the importance of ecological conservation, but mostly, it's an excuse to cut together mesmerizing undersea and outer-space photography while a hypnotic soundtrack drones on. Really, the Dourif parts—marred as they are by wild overacting and the distracting scrape of his feet on the dirt—get in the way of what's primarily a sublime mood piece. When Herzog cycles through scenes of scuba divers under the ice and astronauts sleeping in zero gravity, he conveys a strong sense of what "alien" really means.