Cave Of Forgotten Dreams review

Review Ryan Lambie 18 Mar 2011 - 05:04

Werner Herzog directs the feature-length documentary, Cave Of Forgotten Dreams. It’s a rare example of 3D greatly improving a film’s impact, Ryan writes…

Just what is the point of 3D in cinema, anyway? Is it just a gimmick, a marketing tool to drag out of the cupboard every couple of decades as an excuse to boost ticket prices? Does it really have a tangible effect on how we engage with films?

It's a pertinent enough question, especially in the wake of films such as Drive Angry 3D, which does the old 50s fleapit trick of poking the audience in the forehead with bullets and pointy objects.

Cave Of Forgotten Dreams, a feature-length documentary from maverick director, Werner Herzog, finds a refreshing alternative use for the kind of digital 3D technology that seduced audiences in Avatar. Instead of transporting viewers to an alien fantasy world, as Cameron's film did, Herzog uses the process to show us the inside of a cavern that, until its discovery in 1994, had remained sealed off and forgotten for around 35,000 years.

Uncovered by Jean-Marie Chauvet, the caves, located in southern France, are decorated with thousands of animal paintings, all remarkably preserved. A tiny handful of ologists aside, the overwhelming majority of us will never see the inside of this strange, beautiful place. Of vital archaeological importance, the caves are sealed like a bank vault, and access to them is only granted under exceptional circumstances.

Herzog uses 3D to transport the viewer into the shadowy depths of these forgotten caverns, and in his hands, it's far more than a mere gimmick. We're able to better appreciate the depth and texture of the walls and how the artists who painted on them composed the layout of the animals to blend harmoniously with the cave's natural undulations and outcroppings. You can even see the claw marks where long-dead bears have scratched at the walls, and the weird, waxen texture of stalactites.

The drawings themselves are remarkable in their accuracy and vigour. As one anthropologist points out, they look uncannily like Picasso charcoal drawings. Far from crude scrawls, the animals are boldly picked out with great sweeping strokes of the arm. Horses gallop in a bustling herd, rhinos clash horns with palpable violence.

Elsewhere in the cave lie the bones of bears, the ashen remains of a human's torch. There are footprints, too. We're even told that somewhere there's the footprint of an eight-year-old child with that of a wolf's right alongside it.

By interviewing various experts, Herzog provides what little insight there is into these long-gone artists. We know from archaeological finds elsewhere that they played music on flutes and that they were expert carvers.

What I've described so far probably sounds rather dry, like a late night documentary on BBC4 with the added inconvenience of 3D. Far from it. Herzog has a keen eye for the strange and the eccentric, and there's a warmth to the way he captures the people he interviews.

One archaeologist was formerly a circus juggler before switching careers. We meet an experimental anthropologist who wears reindeer skins and plays us The Star-Spangled Banner on his vulture bone flute. Then there's an engaging fellow who sniffs out hidden caves with his keenly trained nose.

If you haven't clicked the back button on your browser already, you're probably wondering why on earth a site like Den Of Geek would be reviewing a documentary like Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

It's not a film that everyone will appreciate, admittedly, but for anyone with a passing interest in history, art, or both, it's a fascinating film, and one that makes excellent use of 3D to tell its story.

The best films show us things we've never seen before, or at least encourage us to look at something in a new, unusual way. This is precisely what Cave Of Forgotten Dreams does.

It's a fascinating, thought-provoking film that shows just how ancient our artistic instincts are. In the earliest millennia of our civilisation, our ancestors were driven by the same impulses that compel us to write, paint and play music.

Just what these paintings meant to the people who painted them may be lost forever in the chasm of time that lies between then and now, but the passion and energy of the art remains, and in Cave Of Forgotten Dreams, Herzog's captured that energy beautifully.

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