Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams is not your typical Hollywood 3D entertainment and it’s worth the time, effort and money to see it, if for nothing else, to get the experience of being in that cave. It’s a documentary about the oldest cave paintings ever discovered, the Chauvet cave system in southern France discovered in 1993. The last humans were there 28,000 years ago when all of Europe was frozen with glaciers and the early visitors made remarkably good paintings. A rock slide sealed the cave 20,000 years ago and it’s been waiting ever since for 21st century 3D cameras.
What might have been a potent short film is stretched into a full 90 minute feature and it drags a bit as Herzog pads with extended interviews and repetitive pans of the cave paintings. I felt a bit drowsy spending all that time in a cave at the mid afternoon matinee I went to, but Herzog keeps it amusing with his quirky personal narration and the odd people he’s found to interview.
On the floor of the cave are skulls of animals, now extinct, that are encrusted in coats of limestone from millennia of dripping water, stunning in close-up 3D as are the fresh but prehistoric bear paw prints.  Some nice shots outside the cave are made with a remote controlled helicopter or blimp camera.  One stunning sequence features a 3D computer model of the vast map of the cave made with infrared data points.
Surprisingly, there is some 3D conversion in the film, which is unfortunate but necessary because Herzog couldn’t get his 3D cameras in some places. I’m glad the footage is included because it’s interesting even though the conversion is poor.  The conversion is so poor that you have no trouble discerning which is fake 3D and which is real stereo. The real stuff, and there’s enough of it, is good. Projection was excellent at the Acrlight in Hollywood, using shutter sync glasses.
In NPR’s review they said: “Cave of Forgotten Dreams is probably best enjoyed in a chemically enhanced state of mind with its whispery conversations, sepulchral atmosphere and soothing play of light and shadow ”
As of this writing it’s exclusively at the Arclight in Hollywood but it may be in wider release by the time you read this. Then it will be gone! Don’t miss it.
NPR’s movie review:
listen to Werner Herzog with Terry Gross on Fresh Air
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