(2010)3.5Jason BuchananAs lackluster conversion jobs and rising ticket prices cause jaded moviegoers to grow ever more cynical about the 3D craze, leave it to the legendary Werner Herzog to find an innovative use for the trendy technology. And though the prospect of a 3D documentary may not sound like the "sexiest" use of stereoscopic imagery, the fact that Herzog takes us to a place where few will ever be fortunate enough to venture ensures that it is, without a doubt, one of the most inventive. Much like James Cameron did when he took us to the floor of the Atlantic Ocean in Ghosts of the Abyss, Herzog doesn't just give us a movie, he gives us an experience -- and here, as much as there, the results are frequently breathtaking.
In 1994, scientists exploring a region of Southern France discovered a cave containing ancient artwork that was speculated to be approximately 30,000 years old. Incredibly, the etchings had been almost perfectly preserved; however, the further scientists studied the cave drawings, the more they began to realize just what a delicate treasure they had unearthed. Reasoning that exposure to such simple contaminants as light and human breath could easily erode the vividly detailed sketches, the French government sealed off the cave, ensuring that it would only be accessible to a select few archaeologists and qualified researchers. For over a decade, the cave sat locked as tight as a bank vault. But now, thanks to special permission from the French government, Herzog and his film crew grant us the opportunity to witness something truly extraordinary. Cutting through the damp darkness with heatless lights and armed with compact, state-of-the-art 3D cameras, the man who brought us such acclaimed documentaries as Little Dieter Needs to Fly, Grizzly Man, and Encounters at the End of the World takes us to a place that only a fortunate few will ever be able to stand, and shows us sights that will forever alter our views of our ancient ancestors.
With Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Herzog uses his camera to place the viewer in a state of cinematic meditation. As our eyes caress every crevice and behold etchings that look like they could have been made last week, the director's soothing voice relays the remarkable story of the cave's discovery, and haunting music lulls us into a state of deep contemplation. You don't need to be an amateur archeologist to appreciate the majestic beauty and exceptional rarity of these drawings; Herzog's patient approach to shooting both the drawings and the cave interiors affords us the opportunity to forget the outside world and focus exclusively on the images before us. Save for one gimmicky shot in which one of Herzog's subjects playfully prods the audience with an ancient spear, the focus of the 3D in Cave of Forgotten Dreams is largely on depth, as the director's lens lingers lovingly over drawings of horses, bison, birds, and insects. It's an awe-inspiring experience, and one that few will want to end despite the occasional lapse in quality (during the first descent, the crew was only allowed to use a nonprofessional camera rig, and the 3D imagery suffers greatly for it).
Though not every interview is shot in an environment specifically conducive to the 3D format, occasional conversations in the areas surrounding the cave give a vivid impression of the stunning surrounding landscape, and, as usual, Herzog possesses a curious talent for getting his subjects to open up. Sure, the director ladles on the poetic narration a little too thickly in the closing scenes, but perhaps he can be forgiven considering the incredibly profound nature of the discovery and all of the unique questions that it raises.
In 1994, one of the most remarkable archaeological discoveries of the decade came to light in a cave in Southern France, known as the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc: etchings estimated at around 30,000 years old. The date of origin made these some of the oldest remnants of humankind ever discovered. Unsurprisingly, these artistic remnants bore a precious fragility -- experts asserted that overexposure, even to elements as seemingly harmless as human breath, could severely damage or destroy the drawings. For that reason, few obtained access to this area. One exception arrived in the form of maverick German filmmaker Werner Herzog, who not only obtained permission to film (with lights that emit no heat) but did so in 3D -- a process that enabled him to convey the textured surfaces on which the figures are drawn, as well as the shape and depth of the cave's stalagmites and other structures. This astonishing 3D documentary not only provides exquisite visual detail of the cave (as Herzog explores it) but uses the visuals as a springboard to broader philosophical questions about the nature of humanity itself and the transience of humankind.