Toronto: Werner Herzog's 3D documentary 'Caves Of Forgotten Dreams' comes up empty
You will find few more vocal fans of "Grizzly Man" than me. I think Werner Herzog is one of the great wild men of cinema, frequently drawn to a challenge in the world of film simple to be the one who conquers it. My first exposure to him was when I saw "Burden Of Dreams," the documentary about the making of "Fitzcarraldo," and watching this crazy German man try to push a boat up a mountain in the middle of the jungle, I immediately fell for him. I love filmmakers like this, guys who seem touched by madness, and whose madness often leads to images of pure transcendent beauty. Herzog could retire tomorrow and rest easy in the knowledge that he's a legend.
Instead, he continues to push himself in new ways, and conquering 3D seems to be his latest goal. I'm not sure I'd say he conquered it (I have some issues with the process, at least based on our screening), but it is indeed an interesting step to try to use it to convey some experience that 99.9% of us will never have access to. I will most likely never visit the Chauvet Cave near the Ardeche River in southern France. It sounds amazing, this prehistoric spot that was miraculously preserved for 20,000 years before it was uncovered in 1994, and Herzog took a crew (with heavy restrictions in place) into the cave to capture the hundreds of paintings that were discovered there.
These may well be the oldest paintings we'll ever find, double the age of any paintings found before this. There is basic primal value in seeing these things in their original setting, to get some sense of what it was like for those people, some connection to the lives they lived. All of the footage of the caves and the paintings is of value, remarkable images that needed to be preserved.
As a film, though, I'm not sure I think much of "Caves Of Forgotten Dreams." It's a lesser work by a great filmmaker about an important subject, which makes it hard to review. It's easy enough to just sit and bask in the visual side of things, but the connections Herzog reaches for in the film never quite work, and overall, the voice-over narration is borderline self-parody, particularly when Herzog detours to a nearby nuclear power plant to show some albino alligators. Even a film like "Encounters At The End Of The World" works better as a whole because there is some thematic throughline. I'm not sure Herzog ever figured out why he was shooting these cave paintings aside from the sheer "wow" factor of them, and I'm not sure there needed to be more reason. But the aimless nature of the movie makes "Caves Of Forgotten Dreams" a destination few viewers will explore more than once.
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