Cave of Forgotten Dreams Review
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Werner Herzog is quite a character. You never really know what to expect from him. Maybe you’ll get a heavy drama like Rescue Dawn. Maybe you’ll get a peculiar remake like Bad Lieutenant. Or maybe he’ll just eat his shoe. So, really, it should come as no surprise that the eccentric German director would decide to gather a film crew to shoot a 3D documentary inside an ancient cave.

In Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Herzog travels with a small crew to southern France to explore the Chauvet Cave. Before its discovery in 1994, the cave had been hidden for thousands of years, perfectly preserving the secrets inside—from the footprints and fossils of long-extinct animals to the world’s oldest known cave paintings, dating back approximately 32,000 years.

Herzog worked within some pretty strict guidelines in order to bring audiences along on this remarkable journey. He could film for just a few hours at a time. He couldn’t touch anything. And he had to stay on a narrow walkway that winds its way through the 1300-foot cave. The rules and regulations must have been absolutely oppressive for such an eccentric artist—but, thanks to Herzog’s willingness to rein himself in and work inside the box for a while, moviegoers can experience this mesmerizing adventure as if they were walking along with the film crew.

The cave itself is remarkable (and remarkably beautiful), filled with massive formations that sparkle and glitter when illuminated. And the cave floors are scattered with the remains of prehistoric animals like cave bears. Had the film revealed just these formations and remains, it still would have been worth watching—but the paintings hidden within the cave make it truly spectacular.

The drawings—of everything from fighting rhinos to charging bison—are unlike any prehistoric paintings you’ve ever seen. They aren’t the crude stick figures that you might expect; they have depth and shading and movement. They tell stories and show action. Some, in fact, look like they could have come right out of da Vinci’s sketchbook. It’s truly amazing to see these images—and to imagine the artists who created them thousands of years ago.

While I’m not usually a big fan of 3D, the footage here is often striking, giving shape to the prehistoric artists’ drawings. Still, the technique isn’t flawless—most likely because of the filmmakers’ limitations. Some scenes, then, look like a hastily-created pop-up book. Others, however, are so lifelike that it’s impossible not to get caught up in the journey.

Unfortunately, in order to fill the full 90 minutes, Herzog takes to editorializing the images, their significance, and their meaning with his dry narration. And he concludes with a bizarre postscript that, as far as I can tell, has little or nothing to do with the rest of the film.

As long as you can overlook the occasional ramblings of the quirky director, though, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is an absolutely breathtaking experience—one that makes even those annoying 3D glasses tolerable. And since the cave itself is locked and heavily guarded, this is your only chance to witness it all for yourself—so, if it’s showing in a theater near you, don’t pass up the opportunity to join Herzog on his adventure.

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