OK, I love Werner Herzog. He can literally do anything, from dramatic narrative films like Rescue Dawn with Christian Slater, to documentaries that range from quirky (Encounters at the End of the World) to disturbing (Grizzly Man). Let’s just say he has the greatest job in the world, and I’m always interested in checking out his projects, to see where his inquisitive mind takes him.
That said, Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a documentary that I admire, yes, but feel bad that I can only recommend to those people who are inherently interested in the subject. Here’s the thing though, I thought I was interested in the subject of wayyyyy prehistoric cave paintings (it IS an interesting topic!), but after taking at least one solid nap during the film, I decided I would have been more interested if I got to be part of the film crew.
Herzog and his small crew of cameramen, bedecked with 3D cameras, gain access to the very strictly controlled Chauvet cave in southern France. The caves are literally off-limits to almost everyone, and only a few people are allowed in at a time under strict supervision. When the caves were discovered in 1994, they had been most likely sealed off for tens of thousands of years from a rockslide, leaving the interior—most notably some fantastic cave paintings dating as far back as 32,000 years ago—perfectly preserved. If that wasn’t amazing in itself (which it is), the artwork is almost twice as old—twice!—as the famous cave paintings in Lascaux!
Since most of us mere mortals will never, ever, get the chance to see these caves in person, this film document is a real treat for us mere mortals. The camera pans across the walls lovingly, with a soothing reverent soundtrack. There are horses galloping, seemingly in motion. There are lions and rhinos and bears! Some of the animals are extinct, and some, like the buffalo-headed Venus figure, are mythical. There are even preserved paw prints from cave bears on the cave floor, as well as a child’s footprints. Truly amazing.
But the thing is, the Herzog is so reverent that his ubiquitous quirk only rarely emerges with a comment or two. There are a few enjoyably odd characters, as is to be expected, like the enthusiastic young scientist who used to be in the circus, or the man dressed in hides that played a prehistoric bone flute for the camera (luckily, he finally clarified that it was a replica after I and others expressed alarm as he wrapped his lips around it). But they are few and far between, as Cave of Forgotten Dreams returns again and again to lovingly show us the paintings, panning verrrrrry slowly.
OK, the truth is, my three friends and I all fell asleep during the film. ALL of us. I’m just saying. I love Herzog, really I do… But unless you are a cave painting groupie (raise your hand!), you may be trying to slyly check your watch through your 3D glasses during this one.