DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Cave of Forgotten Dreams 3D, Blu-ray (2011)

None of us will ever see the real cave, so this 3D Blu-ray documentary becomes even more special.

Published on August 7, 2012

Cave of Forgotten Dreams 3D, Blu-ray (2011)

Director & Narrator: Werner Herzog
Music: Ernst Reijseger
Studio: MPI/Sundance Selects IFC1880
Video: 1.78:1 for 16:9 1080p HD (both 2D & 3D versions)
Audio: English & French DTS-HD MA 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Extras: “Ode to the Dawn of Man” (Herzog short mostly on recording of the music), Theatrical trailer
Length: 90 minutes
Rating: *****

Another amazing film from Werner Herzog. His decision to shoot it in 3D shows his genius—I would rate this right up there with Avatar and Hugo as one of the best of the current crop of 3D features. He was allowed two visits to the Chauvet Cave in the south of France, which now has been pretty much closed totally due to the breath of people in it causing mold to grow on the walls. On the first he says on the soundtrack that his crew of only four used a small consumer 3D video camera. On the their second visit he had developed a compact 3D camera that got better footage, and for some shots they put it on a pole so it could get closer to the amazing artwork in the cave. The cave has a narrow metal walkway that visitors must stay on – often some distance from the artwork. Still, things are not perfect technically, but the often flickering lighting makes the viewer think of the original situation in the dark cave with only torches. In some of the very dark long shots the visual noise in the image becomes very high; I don’t know if the 2D version also suffers from that or if its an artifact of my particular display.

The unprecedented archeological find of the Chauvet Cave came about when a cave expert found a narrow, almost impossible passage into the cave in some rocks. The cave had been totally sealed up for over 30,000 years by a rock slide over the main entrance, making it more than double the age of anything similar found on the earth. The cave paintings of lions, horses, bears, rhinos, mammoths, bison and even a single one of part of a woman’s body, have an overwhelming artistic and even spiritual effect on anyone viewing them. The original artist cleverly used the undulations of the cave walls to depict a 3D sort of effect, such as having the rump of a bison painted over a bump in the wall. One painting of a horse head has it sort of peering around a corner of the cave wall. The 3D camera perfectly captures these details.

The commentary by various experts on early man are most interesting. The images in these miraculous caves give an entirely new view of primitive culture. I think the fact that struck me the strongest was not about the artwork at all, but one of the French scientists stating that all the early flute-type instruments found in caves were diatonic – in perfect tune with today’s normal system of music! The short film in the extras is not really about the Dawn of Man, but a sort of home movie of the recording of the music which featured a small choir, the composer’s cello, and a tin flute. Some of the music reminded me of Herzog’s use of Popul Vuh on his Aguirre feature; others might find it annoying. One effective section was when Herzog got everyone to be quiet and just had nothing but silence for a bit. The film ends with a quick odd visit to a nearby nuclear plant which raises crocodiles in the warm radioactive water outflow from the plant—some of them albino. (Could have done without that, Werner.) However, none of us viewing this wonderful documentary will ever see the real cave, so this 3D Blu-ray becomes even more special. (A detailed mock-up of the cave is being built for tourists.)

—John Sunier




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