Director: Werner Herzog
Cast: Werner Herzog, Jean-Michel Geneste
Imagine you’re in a cave. That’s it. That’s the experience you get from Werner Herzog’s 3D documentary. 90 minutes of standing in a cave. With tons of prehistoric drawings to keep you company. And Werner Herzog, of course.
Taking along his brightest torch, the director dives underground with schoolboy excitement. And you can’t really blame him. The Chauvet caves in South France are the secret preserve of scientists and archaelogists, not film-makers (especially batshit crazy ones like old Werner) and they're home to paintings created 30,000 odd years ago.
Once inside this most magical of holes, Herzog and his four-man crew can't leave the two-foot wide footpaths and are only allowed down there for a few hours at a time. But still, they lumber around 3D camera equipment for the whole movie. Is it worth it? Hell yes it is.
From the opening shot of a nearby vineyard to the claustrophobic caves themselves, the visuals are astounding. Shining light into every crevice, Herzog throws shadows across the screen, giving real texture to all the lumps, bumps and bony remains. Who knew calcium deposits could be so beautiful?
One bit of rock even has a naked woman drawn on it - tantalisingly half-hidden by the dark, like some kind of ultra-symbolic philosophical porn. After endless kids animations and confusing football matches, Cave of Forgotten Dreams has finally discovered the true purpose of 3D: letting Werner Herzog run around in the dark looking at cavewomen's front bottoms.
All the while, he babbles on about everything from dreams to laser scanners. "This bison was painted with eight legs to give it a sense of motion - it's almost a form of proto-cinema," enthuses the nutjob. He's a wonder of the universe in his own right, a sort of demented German David Attenborough. Who clearly has a thing for lizards.
Being Herzog, he then rounds up a bunch of specialists (read: weirdos) to interview. One researcher used to be in the circus ("I'm a scientist but I'm a human too!") while another is a perfumer who wears woolly jumpers and claims he can smell caves from above ground. Then there's Jean-Michel, who looks like Einstein and spends his time waving ancient spears in your face. And finally Wulf, who dresses in dead reindeer and plays the flute. Bless him.
It all combines to make a fascinating trip to the cinema. Immense and stunning, the 3D caves leave you gazing at the screen in silent wonder. And then Herzog wheels out an epilogue about a nuclear power plant and some mutant albino alligators. "Are we the alligators staring back into the abyss of time?" Werner asks. At least it gets him out the house.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams combines Germans, flutes and caveman porn to mesmerising effect. A proper work of art.
- brian cox
- cave of forgotten dreams
- david attenborough
- jean-michel geneste
- werner herzog