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STUDIO MPI Home Video
RUNNING TIME 90 Minutes
• Ode to the Dawn of Man
A documentary about the oldest known pictorial artwork and what we know about it.
Director/Writer/Narrator: Werner Herzog
One of the most successful documentaries of all time from the incomparable Werner Herzog, Cave of Forgotten Dreams provides a breathtaking cinematic experience following an exclusive expedition into the Chauvet Cave in France, home to the most ancient artwork ever discovered. The film provides a unique view of nearly inaccessible, pristine works dating back over 30,000 years – almost twice as old as any other known to exist. Herzog evokes wonder and curiosity in equal measure as he explores the very beginning of human culture.
A few months ago I reviewed Into the Abyss, where I didn’t agree with the opinion of director but I did enjoy the presentation. Herzog is a film legend, either talking acting or directing, but his documentaries seem a strange use of his talents, but he adapts that strangeness into passion about his subjects and we are left with a true video love letter.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams has a lot of topics it covers, the history of man, the rich geography surrounding the Chauvet Cave in France, the animal species flourishing in the valley some 32,000 years in the past and the basis of music and religion proof left by Gravettian man. The documentary begins by letting you know they had exclusive access to film inside the cave and that they were accompanying a group of scientists that were making a week long excavation into the cave. They also inform the audience that they are not able to use a full camera crew or setup, utilizing a lot of hand held video shots and not worrying about crew that may appear on the screen.
They quickly fill in the details of the cave, the fact it contains the oldest known art and the layout of the cave. It tells how it was discovered, the instant acknowledgement of the value of the cave and the steps the government went through to preserve the pristine condition it was found in. Some of the technology that is used to give scientists the ability to access the cave without actually going back in is shown as Herzog converses with specialists of different fields.
The cave begins to tell a story that is aptly conveyed to the audience. They examine a lot of the art in detail, explain how they used the artwork to tell stories in the firelight. Some of the art showed examples of action such as running or fighting.
The most interesting concept to me is the talk about religion and the thought that they gathered to worship. There were signs of an alter and many indications that humans congregated around the alter. Albeit there was a bear skull on the alter, it was probably a different religion than exists today. Only a short amount of time is spent on this mesmerizing concept, as it was only one part of the cave.
The other interesting discovery was bone flutes and the concept of musical instruments. They had one guy dressed as how they would have dressed back then, in dear skin clothes and boots, who actually played a replica bone flute. It was nothing more than a recorder, but it is still interesting to know that groups were gathering to play them close to 30,000 years ago.
Once again, the story telling and the production value of the documentary is one of the best that I have witnessed. Many unique environment shots, some computer images and the attention to detail in the cave stand out even more knowing the constraints the crew had to go through. There is a 10 minute montage segment that gives a very patient virtual tour of the entire cave, from start to finish. It’s here that the images come to life and the audience truly feels like they have been to the cave. I watched the Blu Ray on a 2d projector, so I didn’t get to experience the great 3-D that this film got recognized for. To know the word of mouth the non professional camera was able to achieve, it really puts a bigger question to big budget Hollywood as to why they have so many poor quality after conversions out there.
If documentaries are your thing, you can’t do better. If you are looking for a story with an edge, this is not it. It is an interesting look at our past, in a location we will probably never experience any better than this.
The Blu I reviewed had both the regular and 3-D version on it. It also contained a video of the music composition that is great for those into scores.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars