First up, go see Cave of Forgotten Dreams right now at the Regina Public Library Film Theatre. I saw it out of town back in August and it was one of my favourite documentaries of the past while.
Of course, over at the RPL, you won’t get to see it in 3D, the way it was filmed and was intended to be shown. Consequently, you can’t become one of those people who, whenever someone is going on about how artistically bankrupt 3D is, will respond with “Well, director Werner Herzog used it to great effect in his documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” and then the other person’s monocle just drops into their champagne glass ’cause they’ve been owned.
The use of 3D in the movie was interesting, but not essential. Herzog, famed eccentric and director, filmed inside of a French cave that might very well contain the oldest art that still exists, a series of cave paintings that had been sealed away for thousands of years. After jumping through some understandable hoops, he and his minimal crew were able to go in and film the paintings.
Herzog also talks to experts on the caves and the people who may have made the paintings. One of the experts used to be in the circus before getting into archaeology, making him the perfect Herzog interview subject.
The reason why 3D is supposed to be important is that the paintings weren’t designed as two-dimensional things. They work with the shape of the cave walls, occasionally suggesting movement depending on how you’re looking at them. That said, the greatest 3D moment in the movie is clearly when one of Herzog’s experts thrusts a spear at the camera, as one of our long-ago ancestors might have done.
Just in case you can’t make it out this weekend or you just wanna know what you’re in for when you go see Cave of Forgotten Dreams, I would now like to spoil the craziest part: the epilogue. Read on after the jump for that.
Herzog has plenty of crazy to spare. I felt a Herzog impression bubbling up from me while I was watching this, since I knew I had to deliver lines like — and I’m paraphrasing here — “Do you think that this was the birth of the human soul?” with the same measured voice, German accent, and complete lack of irony if I wanted to capture the full effect.
The epilogue goes all-out, though.
Cut to a shot of nuclear reactor which Herzog, as narrator, explains is quite close to the caves. Cut then to a habitat for albino alligators, who have been affected the warm waters that run off from the reactor.
From there, Herzog gets back to some hardcore, metaphysical musing. He says something along the lines of “One day, humanity might be gone and this land might belong to the albino alligators. I wonder if they will one day find their way into the caves, if they will look at the drawings and recognize us and recognize themselves.”
All this to say, Herzog’s mind is a fucked-up puzzle. I don’t know where any of this came from, but I was held in rapt attention the whole time.