If you haven't heard about the film yet, here's the rundown: Werner Herzog was given permission to film in the Chauvet Cave, which was (re)discovered in 1994 and contains cave paintings which are mind-boggilingly old. (You canexplore the cave online here.) Herzog combined this footage with interviews and some truly stunning aerial footage of the area to create the movie. The Cave of Forgotten Dreams trailer gives you a bit of a feel for what to expect.
Inevitably while watching the movie, I found myself making a pros/cons list. I think one of my first reactions after leaving the theatre was, "that film didn't need Herzog as director." But, on reflection, maybe it did - France is very selective about who gets to enter the cave, so it is possible that a director with a less impressive resume would have been rejected. On the other hand, Cave of Forgotten Dreams sees Herzog being especially... Herzog-y.
Elements I Liked
- The cave paintings. This is the oldest recording of human art modern humans have been able to find, and they've been preserved so well precisely because they're in a particularly inaccessible location. Most of us will probably never be able to visit, so I was pleased with how much screen time is given to the paintings.
- The interviews. There are a lot of absolute characters associated with the cave, from a circus performer-turned-archaeologist and an "experimental archaeologist" who is a riot, to a master perfumer. Someone needs to make a film about these people, honestly.*
Elements I Disliked
- Herzog being self-indulgent. The crowd in the theatre had paid $11 apiece to see a movie about cave paintings; I'm assuming that all of us were genuinely interested in the material. That still wasn't enough for there not to be giggles here and there when Herzog waxed poetic about the doppelgangers of albino alligators or tried to lead the interviews down his own paths.
- The score. Oh, God, the score. For the most part it was just annoying, but in one or two places the reverb was physically painful. I will only every watch this film again if the soundtrack is redone.
All in all, worth the ticket price, absolutely. And, I have no idea why only one theatre in the city is playing this in 3D; this movie is exactly what 3D was invented for.
*yes, my movie critic friend and I talked this weekend about how Herzog invents characters sometimes... and at the moment apparently it's unclear which of the interviewees are "real". Personally, the master perfumer is really the only one that strikes me as probably not an actual person.