Werner Herzog is a legend. His films are often ridiculous and poetic. When he becomes interested in a subject, he knows how to move his lens in an abstract fashion that resembles his own worldview. His fans became excited when he announced he was going to experiment in 3D. Fitting with the trend, the results are anti-climatic.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams 3D sounds a mystic adventure story. In terms of historical context it is. Herzog was one of the only people to venture into the Chauvet caves in the south of France. The caves have their majestic presence, but the reason they are so significant is the images that are drawn on the walls.
The drawings are the earliest records of human art. Also, the drawings are surprisingly good. These are not boring stick figures depicting that one time where there was boar. Instead the depictions of animals are remarkably accurate. There is expertise shown with the shading and placement that show something special.
The question becomes how special. Herzog does his best to bring his philosophic hyperbole to the littlest of detail. Some of it hits, but most of it doesn’t. He only has so much time to cover the caves, but he struggles to make a full subject out of it. Most of the problem comes from how little we know about these people. There are tons of drawings of animals, but none of a full human. Thus, they had high societal affection for animals.
The rest seems like a lot of stretches. They try to identity culture and religion from the most mundane things because they don’t a lot to work with. So it’s a cold expedition since it’s an early discovery. The drawings themselves remain impressive but only to a point. It couldn’t sustain the montages they create for them.
Knowing Herzog’s relationship with nature, I was surprised they spent all of the focus on these drawings and not the cave. Oddly enough one of the more memorable moments in the movie was when they first enter the cavern. They have to go through a narrow passage and with the crew and the 3D technology it was very claustrophobic.
The charms of the film are the things that are separate from the premise. The albino crocodiles, the former circus performer. These are the quirks typically associated with a Herzog documentary, but it feels like he had an obligation just to stick with the drawings instead of venture elsewhere for the sake of the movie.