"31 Movies, 31 Days": #17 Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Movie: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010)
Budget: not published, but very low---maybe $1 million or less
Rotten Tomatoes: 95%
Format: in theater...in 3-D
Reviewing Werner Herzog's 3-D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a tricky endeavor. Herzog has taken on an almost infallible, god-like reputation in recent years. He's eccentric, likable, prolific, a fine filmmaker, and he's keenly aware of how he's perceived in popular culture. Since 1995, Herzog has had an astonishing eight films with a 90% or higher rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics love them some Werner Herzog. I do, too, but the very successful Cave of Forgotten Dreams forces me to make a distinction between filmmaker and subject. In so doing, the Cave wins...but Herzog loses.
There's little doubt that the cave paintings discovered in France in 1994, the subject of Herzog's documentary, are of overwhelming historical and anthropological significance. Maintained in pristine condition, they date back over 30,000 years, twice as old as any previous similar discovery. That fact alone is enough to send chills up ones spine as you prepare for this rare look inside the cave. Once inside, the paintings themselves do not disappoint. They are sharply drawn murals of animals, and one image of a group of horses is especially magnificent. These are the earliest known works of art and it's a true privilege to be able to witness them in such a finely preserved condition.
The issue I have with Cave of Forgotten Dreams, however, is that there's very little else beyond the paintings. Herzog's narration is as loopy as ever and serves as more of a distraction than an amusement. Res ipsa loquitur. The thing speaks for itself, quite frankly. Additionally, while some context is given through interviews with researchers and scientists, I can't help but feel the information was woefully inadequate. And when relevant information was provided, Herzog couldn't stop himself from pondering the existential meaning behind it all. It comes off as silly time filler. As for the 3-D aspect, there is some added value in its use, but production constraints within the cave clearly limited its benefit. Some of the shots in 3-D are indeed fantastic, but at best it adds very little, and at worst it makes a dark cave all that much darker and blurrier.
I can't tell you not to see Cave of Forgotten Dreams because it's the only way you'll be able to experience such an amazing discovery. You should see it. But credit for the recommendation goes to the artists from 30,000 years ago, not the well-intentioned German artist from present day who simply pointed his camera and asks, "what does it all mean?"
Kraig's Rating: 6/10
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