Cave of Forgotten Dreams 3D (G)

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner13/10/2011

Three out of Five stars
Running time: 95 mins

Herzog's latest documentary provides an extraordinary visual record (in 3D, no less) of a truly astonishing historical find but the film isn't nearly as fascinating once it leaves the caves.

What's it all about?
Directed by Werner Herzog, Cave of Forgotten Dreams sees the director back in full-on documentary mode, as he accompanies a small group of scientists on a series of visits to the government protected Chauvet caves in southern France. Discovered in 1994, the caves turned out to contain a series of extraordinary cave paintings (thought to be over 30,000 years old) which have been perfectly preserved thanks to being sealed in by a landslide some 20,000 years ago.

Herzog's camera explores both the interiors of the caves and the paintings themselves in great detail before venturing back above ground for interviews with various experts. Finally, as a postscript, Herzog visits the arboretum of a nearby nuclear power plant where he speculates on some radioactive albino alligators (or possibly crocodiles, but Herzog calls them alligators).

The Good
The cave paintings (mostly of animals such as rhinos, horses and lions) are simply astonishing, not just for their sheer existence, their enormous historical value and how well preserved they are (if you didn't know better you'd swear the whole thing was a hoax) but also for the level of artistry involved in their production. Herzog makes the point that the multiple legs on the animals give them the illusion of movement, making it feel “almost like we're looking at a form of proto-cinema.” Similarly, the depth of field on the paintings seems remarkably advanced – in one example, the legs of a horse on a vertical outcrop continue underneath and away from us, so if you stand at the right angle they look like they're the right length.

The film is beautifully shot, with the 3D cameras bringing the textures and shapes of the cave and the paintings to life. In addition, Herzog's also not above chucking in the odd gimmick, such as when one of the scientists demonstrates a primitive spear by pointing it at the camera.

The Bad
Though it's always a treat to hear Herzog's distinctive voice, his commentary eventually departs from the fascinating factual side and becomes frustratingly speculative and less interesting. Similarly, once the film leaves the caves, the interviews with the various experts are fairly dull and begin to feel like padding, despite the odd amusing moment.

Worth seeing?
Cave of Forgotten Dreams is an impressively made documentary that sheds light on a genuinely fascinating subject but the rest of the film is never as captivating as the cave paintings themselves.

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Content updated: 21/01/2020 11:54

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