Wed 4 May 2011
In the 3D documentary, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” (opening May 6th), director Werner Herzog is given exclusive access to film inside an archeological marvel, the Chauvet Cave. Located in France and only discovered in 1994 as it was hidden by a rockslide that helped keep it so pristine, inside are cave drawings that date as far back as 33,000 years ago, which is twice as long as any others we know of at this point.
For fans of Herzog though, fret not, he didn’t simply bring a camera crew along and bring us back the footage. Interviews with scientists the French government has allowed to study the cave give us background and detail about what we’re shown. Also, while it essentially takes until the post script to do so, he once again is questioning the makeup of the human spirit in a way only Herzog can (I like to call it “Herzog being Herzog”). Of course, it probably helps to have an affinity and familiarity with his work so one doesn’t simply think some of his concluding statements aren’t the product of cheap tequila or a high fever.
And actually, this foray bears a great likeness to Herzog’s 2008 documentary on Antarctica, “Encounters at the End of the World“. Aside from the human spirituality angle, he once again brings in distracting orchestral and chorale music that he uses in the beginning and end of the film. While beautiful in certain circumstances, the music clashes with the solemnity of the site, rather than accentuates it.
Also keeping in congruence with his previous doc, for all of the beautiful footage he’s captured, some judicious editing could have turned each feature length film into a 40-45 minute presentation more often associated with science centers and cable TV channels. While only 90 minutes, I found myself struggling at time to keep my eyes open (and this was a mid-morning screening, just like had been done with “Encounters”). Part of my body’s desire to take a nap was the pacing but another part was also seeing many of the same cave paintings over and over again. As beautiful and fascinating as they are, one or two long shots of each will suffice, thank you.
Now for all of that general negativity, Herzog’s effort does have its 3D to explain why it merits a theatrical viewing. Assuming you aren’t immune to the effects (and various reports one can find readily on the internet say up to 1 in 10 people are), you will feel like one of the team right inside the cave. The 3D here is generally done in the manner that I find most appreciative, that is to say that it creates a depth of field and often makes it seem like we’re looking through a window rather than at a screen.
However, whether partially because the film was slightly out of focus at the screening I attended (note to projectionists, if the opening credits are slightly fuzzy, you CAN fix this), or whether Herzog and his team didn’t adjust the parallax settings correctly on occasion, there were a number of times that I found myself closing one eye to keep from going cross-eyed while trying to rectify foreground elements aggressively competing for my attention with the rest of the scene.
For those who have never seen the beautiful crystalline structures inside caves, whether exploring on your own or via a tour of some kind, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” will bring that experience to you. It desperately needed to be trimmed down as the film suffers most from its own excess but fans of Herzog know what they’re getting into and because of the cultural significance and mostly effective 3D, I’ll give the documentary a 3 out of 5.