Clips, interviews and lectures are the pieces of the puzzle A Brief History of Time looks to put together. A biographical piece on the life and times of Stephen Hawking, up until 1991, that is. Loosely based on his autobiography of the same name, used more as a guide than anything else, the work provided by documentarian Errol Morris is a sincere account of Hawking’s life and work. Interviews with those that know him best, adaptations of his autobiography and a keen desire to understand the man at the heart of this documentary steer the feature well. Keen Morris may be to profile Hawking, it can never be straightforward. He is in the business of making interesting topics seem wider, larger and far more profound than the subject would ever give credence or credit to.
Specially designed sets house these interview portions. What could have been a very straightforward and cheap collection of cut and paste talking heads is made a bit more accessible, even a bit fancier, by this decision to have unique backgrounds. It adds nothing to the strong divulgence of information audiences receive, but it works wonders in some strange way. A larger than life setting for ordinary people. It is a poignant image that Morris never has time to dedicate himself to all that fully. Instead, he is focused on painting a picture of the subject. Despite his efforts in beautifying the surroundings, he holds no punches with the frank and open observations of Hawking found throughout A Brief History of Time.
It is the tone A Brief History of Time gets so right. Intense close-ups as Hawkings talks through his condition and the effect it has had on him. Moments of deliberation and honest discussion about his impact and his value as not just a scientist, but a person. Humanising great achievements from pioneering individuals is a harder fought battle than first expected. What Morris gets so right with A Brief History of Time is through understanding that Hawking is just a man. His talents stretch far beyond many, but he is still just someone wandering the Earth. That is founded with a strong finality from Morris and the talking heads that feature throughout.
A good picture of a great scientist is presented. A Brief History of Time is a fundamentally good documentary. It implements the Morris style better than his other works. Huge questions asking about the origins of the universe are used as filler, rather than a feature. But that is the beauty of A Brief History of Time. It is indeed brief, but in that time is a grand account of a gifted man. There is a universal appeal to this documentary but will only truly connect with those that wish to learn. The bulk of humanity know the name Stephen Hawking, yet what he does is so engaging and fascinating. Those that wish to learn more about the great scientist will find a rewarding documentary from Morris here, who spends his time crafting a strong narrative of contemporary critics and supporters, family members and quotes from the physician himself.