Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Movie Review: The Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Werner Herzog's Cave of Forgotten Dreams is an almost spiritual experience as we enter into the life and times of ancient humans through cave paintings that are 32,000 or more years old. Using 3D technology we are taken into the Chauvet Caves of Southern France - a rare opportunity as no one else has been allowed to film in the caves.

The caves were discovered in 1994 by a group of scientists. They contain the oldest known human drawings and represent a remarkable cultural and historical find. The French government immediately realized the value of the find and sealed the caves, only allowing a small group of paleontologists and archeologists annual access to its treasures. Access is extremely constrained and small non-professional cameras with limited lighting only were allowed on the first visit. On the second, state of the art 3D cameras were used allowing the rich texture of these paintings to be shared. It is awe-inspiring to think that over 30,000 years ago someone was painting these drawings illustrating the animals and birds that were part of their world and telling stories that we now are "hearing". But we can know very little even though what has been preserved is in pristine condition. Just to enter the caves in 3D is enough though. In places it is like a cathedral and the experience, along with the haunting music of the soundtrack, provides a humbling meditative experience.

At times, the commentary is a little over interpretive and the post-script is excessively hyperbolic to the point of almost spoiling the mood of the film. The film could be shortened by cutting some of the extraneous material. But overall it provides a rare opportunity.

For some Christians, certain difficult questions will immediately arise (and most likely quickly avoided or rationalized away). Specifically, those Christians who believe in a very young earth need to deal with the fact that these paintings are over 32,000 years old and some of them even older than that. More and more evidence mounts for a very old earth and for a chronology of human history that just doesn't fit with a literalistic reading of the Old Testament. None of these issues are mentioned in the documentary but a thinking Christian will inevitably need to deal with the implications of the facts.

The Cave of Forgotten Dreams is a simple film on one level. But the 3D immerses us into what soon feels like a real visit to these caves. I recommend the visit - particularly in view of the fact that very few people will ever get to actually step inside this monumental discovery.

Positive Review
'Director Werner Herzog's latest cinematic mind trip blows you away with its beauty' - Joe Neumaier/New York Daily News

Negative Review
'Cave of Forgotten Dreams feels stuck in a middling zone of too much conjecture and not enough scholarship.' - Joshua Rothkopf/Time Out New York



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