Cave Diving, by Jack Fleischer
Werner Herzog documentaries are a little like molecular gastronomy. It looks like one thing, but then brings in tastes you never expected. This time Herzog is exploring the Chauvet-Pont-d’arc cave paintings using both 3D technology and his trademark point of view. It’s delightfully odd, and amazing, all at the same time.
These caverns discovered in ‘94 contain paintings reportedly twice as old as any others previously discovered, clocking in at approximately 32,000 years. As man’s oldest art, exploring these unique markings with the latest in film technology seems almost a natural way to underscore the distance man has traveled.
I’m not a fan of 3D, but I loved the idea of it in here, mostly because Herzog is taking you into a cave that allows in only a few scientists and researchers each year. This is as close as most of us will ever come to this historic monument, and being able to see the paintings within the natural texture of the walls is added value.
Still, it hurt my eyes and temples, and was only effective half of the time, but for moments it was tremendously cool.
Herzog’s narration explains right away that the heavy restrictions on his crew and equipment, due to the fragile nature of the caves, means that he was limited in what he could catch on film. There are a number of times when I want the camera and lights to move – but given the extraordinary nature of what being capturing on film, it’s hard to complain.
If there’s any area where the documentary comes up short, it’s that it doesn’t spend a lot of time documenting the scientific or historical nuances of the find. Instead, Herzog explores the metaphysical questions of the cave’s purpose impresses upon the audience the spectacular nature of the find, and he shines a light on the quirky people who surround the discovery (e.g. the unicyclist/archeologist). What more, at the end of the film there’s a postscript that seems an odd off-shoot of the pervious 80 minutes, involving nuclear power and albino alligators.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams: 3D is an interesting story, told by that quirky friend, who may almost be too quirky for his own good. I look forward to seeing it again (not in 3D), and perhaps reading more about it, because as interesting as this documentary is, like a gynecologist short on cash, I just want more caves.