Typically, a documentary, when compared to a scripted film, requires that the creative team work harder to make their product interesting. This is because they have less control over the basic building blocks, like plot, setting and characters. If they choose to tell a story that inherently lacks any of these elements, they need to try to make up for it. A common technique to increase the appeal of a film are to use animation to elaborate on historic data or to explain difficult to understand concepts. This can be a slippery slope because, if it is not done well, it can cheapen the final product.
Let There Be Light, written and directed by Mila Aung-Thwin, follows the international quest to design, develop and build a hydrogen fusion reactor. Many scientists believe that this technology is the future of supplying electricity on earth. Many countries have been working collaboratively on a multi-decade program to develop a generator on a huge scale. Production of the facility has begun in Europe. At the same time, a handful of independent labs with much smaller budgets and shorter time horizons have also been testing fusion reactors. This film documents the progress and challenges facing these labs. From funding shortfalls and failed tests to an inability to adhere to timelines, it quickly becomes clear that these projects are proving more theoretical and less realistic.
This documentary falls short for a handful of reasons. At times, it feels confusing or unnecessarily long-winded. The use of animation to fill in missing parts of the storyline feel choppy and poorly integrated. Since there has not been a fusion reaction successfully produced in a laboratory, the documentary feels like it was released many years before it was ready. An updated film may be appropriate after humans have managed to control this new energy source. As the credits rolled, I was left thinking that harnessing the power of the sun is far more interesting than this documentary suggests, and science enthusiasts, a potential target audience, would find the storyline too elementary.