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…in fact, the cave that is the subject of this excellent documentary by Werner Herzog, contains the oldest cave paintings yet discovered, dating from approximately 32,000 years ago, twice as old as any other cave paintings yet discovered.

The cave which contains the paintings was discovered by three French speleologists on December 18, 1994 in the Ardeche gorge in southern France. The cave is near the famous Pont d’Arc, a natural stone arch that spans the river, which is popular with canoeists and kayakers in the summer. I should know, I’ve been one on several occasions. The cave is named after one of the three speleologists: Jean Marie Chauvet. The cave is in excellent condition since its original entrance had been sealed off by a rock slide approximately 20,000 years ago. It was found by examining the air escaping from vents in the ground. The original access was through a hole that one person could barely squeeze through.

Herzog is again “clicking on all cylinders” with this film. The tonality of his narration exudes “wisdom,” and more importantly, so too does the content. Access to the cave is severely restricted due to the damage that humans can cause, deliberately at times, inadvertently, at other times, simply by their breathing. Herzog is able to obtain permission for his limited crew to film the cave, so that this important patrimony can be appreciated by all of us. The film is in English, and such is the universality of the language, that portions show French and Germans speaking to each other in English. In some cases, the English is dubbed when a French person is speaking.

The paintings are so fresh looking that their authenticity was originally questioned. Microscopic overgrowth that would take thousands of years proved that they were original. The most famous panel contains four horses’ heads. There are also lions, rhinos, and bison. There appears to be a minotaur, the partial body of a female, with the head of a bison. Unlike the paintings in the cave at Lascaux, there is virtually no use of color in the paintings. Herzog notes the efforts to depict the motion of the animals, including 8 legs on a rhino, a type of “protocinema,” as he calls it. Another fascinating aspect of the paintings is that some images overlay others, and via carbon-dating, they appear to have been made 5,000 years apart, longer than the time that separates us from ancient Troy. Archeologists believe that humans never lived in the cave; it was simply visited for ceremonial purposes. And it was much colder back then, with much lower sea levels that made it possible to walk from the sites of present day London to Paris, since there was no channel. “Global warming” must have been an aspiration to the painters in this cave.

Extensive mapping of the cave has been performed, via 127 scanner stations, involving 1800 hours to topography. At Lascaux, an amazingly realistic replica of the cave was built, so humans can tour the “faux” cave, preserving the original. I’ve toured it, and found the movie on how it was constructed to be utterly fascinating. Herzog mentions, in his movie of 2011, that a similar replica would be constructed for the Chauvet cave, and it was opened in 2015. Those many hours of computer mapping of the original had to be essential for the latter project.

The last few minutes of the film are the painted images, without sound or narration, an impressive way of stressing their significance in the silence of the caves. Once again, Herzog has produced a richly informative movie about one intriguing aspect of the world around us. 5-stars.
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on January 25, 2017
Loved it. Watch it in 3D. As close to actually being there as possible. Nice to see something that's not available to the public and you know you are not contributing to it's destruction by your physical presence. Very stirring.
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on March 4, 2017
Very informative and artistic. The humans 30,000 years ago could be like us, even become astronauts. Herzog is always interesting and careful and sometimes numbingly slow and repetitive, but worth watching always.
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on July 2, 2012
I cannot speak to any 3-D issue, since that is not the version I purchased, but to answer some of the charges by other reviewers: this film is not repetitive: only 2 or 3 of the most exquisite painting segments are shown twice but the second times are in silent close-up, wherein you see much greater detail and their artistic value is underscored. The narration imparts pretty essential data. The music sometimes seems ancient, sometimes religious, and is rarely if ever intrusive. And the albino alligator so often cited as a non-sequitur element is actually very appropriate: to wonder what this mutant, imported denizen of the expanding nearby nuclear facility would think about its own situation, as opposed to the obvious respect and admiration with which Chauvet's artists viewed the other animals in their ecosystem, is sadly entirely relevant. Altogether, this is an invaluable exploration of our most ancestral culture and values, and a treasured film that I look forward to viewing repeatedly! If you have an informed interest in this subject matter, you definitely won't go wrong with "Cave of Forgotten Dreams."
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on August 28, 2013
A couple times a year, the physical anthropology majors of my university hold a movie night. Sometimes it's a "bad" movie night, and we laugh at a horrible film--something like "Link" (about Elizabeth Shue and a killer Orangutan), or Ben Stein's "Expelled." Other times it's a "good" movie night, and we learn from a documentary, such as "Project Nim" or "The Revisionaries." One night I brought "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," and it got a mixed response. I think one of my professors summed it up best when she called it a "good/bad" movie.

In this documentary, Werner Herzog takes viewers on a rare visit to the interior of Chauvet Cave, in southern France, to ponder the significance of the 30,000-year-old works of art there. The Chauvet Cave paintings depict lions, horses, and other Ice Age mammals. They are beautiful works of art, with fine detail, oftentimes utilizing the contours of the cave for dramatic effect, and some of them clearly meant to indicate the subjects' movement. These are not the crude sketches usually associated with the art of "cave men." Along with the paintings are bones and footprints of Ice Age fauna, and even a footprint of a child from thousands of years ago. The cave is exquisitely preserved, and officials want to keep it that way. Few visitors are allowed inside the cave, and Herzog's time in the caverns is both exclusive and brief.

Why did these pre-historic people go through the effort to paint these animals, and what do these images mean? The filmmakers and the experts they interview can wonder and speculate, but leave the viewer with the impression that we will probably never really know. And not only is the subject inherently fascinating, and the music ethereal and haunting, but Herzog truly makes the viewer feel as if he or she is part of the crew, descending into the caverns to peer back in time. It is utterly enthralling.

Unfortunately, it is also a bit silly at times. At one point, an expert perfume sniffer (yes, really) attempts to sniff out new cave openings. He apparently doesn't succeed at this, but he wanders through the caverns, treating the viewer to his thoughts on what the cave might have smelled like when the artists were there. In another scene, when musing on the hypothetical eroticism of the one human figure in the cave's art (an alleged depiction of a woman I, and many others in my group, could not see), Herzog reinforces a German stereotype by mentioning TV's "Baywatch", as if it is the modern epitome of sexiness. The music and narration are also sometimes overly dramatic. Finally, I thought the reviewer who said the film ended with albino alligators floating in water from a nuclear power plant was joking. He wasn't.

So yes, "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" is a good/bad movie. It's captivating, haunting, and thought-provoking, but it is also unintentionally funny. It's also about 90 minutes long, and, while I greatly enjoyed that hour-and-a-half, I can see how that might lose some people who don't have an intense interest in the topic. Recommended for enthusiasts of art, anthropology, and albino alligators.
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on June 3, 2015
Provocative, stunning and awesome. It's not in the movie, but if you want to learn more about the art in these caves and the people that left it, dig this:

Consider, for example, something very simple-say a drawing of an animal. You would perceive it simply as a visual object, but these
people were great syntheizers. A line was not simply a visual line, but according to an almost infinite variety of distinctions and
divisions, it would also represent certain sounds that would be automatically translated.

An observer could automatically translate the sounds before he bothered with the visual image, if he wanted to. In what would
appear to be a drawing of an animal, then, the entire history or background of the animal might also be given. Curves, angles, lines all
represented, beside their obvious objective function in a drawing, a highly complicated series of variations in pitch, tone and value;
or if you prefer, invisible words.

From this website if you want to read further: https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/sethquotes/conversations/topics/748
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on March 6, 2013
These drawings are wonderful. The filiming of them in 3D was genious. It is almost like being there and is in fact the only way you'll get to see them at all, let a lone in such great detail.

Much has been said about the 3D, such as the outside the cave portions being not particularly 3D worthy. I agree. But then why do I care? The big attraction here is to see the unseeable and in 3D so you get the feel for the way it is in the cave, as opposed to 2D phiotographs. The only negative is perhaps that it could, possibly should have been shorter. But it seems they wanted to give enough content (as measured in minutes) for the money invested. But the repetition of the shots of the cave interior and the sometimes curiously unneeded side conversations make it not great cinema.

But all that said, for the price, being able to see these drawings almost in a way that makes them seem touchable is a joy. Would I second guess the director and producer? Yes I would. I would have included more interior cave shots at different angles and magnification, and dumped the repetitive shots and unnecessary commentary. But would I want my money back - NEVER!
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on December 6, 2013
I saw this movie in 3D Imax when it came out and I was blown away by the privilege of being able to see this. This cave was obviously a holy place for our distant ancestors and I felt the holiness of it while watching. The images reminded me of the mystery and awesomeness of our planet and our place on our planet. Nothing in this movie is scrubbed by styrofoam or fast food. This is a movie about the place where humans interjected imagination and thus raw consciousness into life's mysteries. Very few people will ever see this and the 3D viewing makes it seem like you are there. I have been at archeological sites where the the dreams of our ancestors seems to hang like fine fruit in the silence. For me there was nothing to do, but sit and wait in it. That's how I felt while watching this movie. However, I think this movie would be nothing more than the usual Nat-Geo fare if watched in 2-D. The 3-D makes all of the difference in the world. I felt that I was there.

My son has a 3-D 72" tv and I'm buying this for him for Christmas, with a selfish motivation that I will once again see it in 3D
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Whether you are the type who reluctantly goes to a museum and looks at a painting for three seconds, or whether you are the one who holds up the tour group might be the best indication of whether you might like this film. This movie is not for the first group. It's not aimed specifically at the second group either, but may seem that way to people in the first one.

The narration is sometimes interesting, but is like getting a tour guide who has half the crowd listening while some others wonder off to look around; at times you will appreciate what the narration is saying and at other times the caves will speak for themselves. I'm not sure if it's a five star movie or narration but it's a five star tour.

Traveling through a cave with shifting lighting from a torch and seeing the curving walls around you is how the art was conceived. 3D is essential here. I printed out pictures of the cave walls to show others, and found that if I curved them and held them at a certain angle they had a feel that fell apart when they were held flat. In a sense, the paintings were sculpture-like, and shading, viewing angle, and lighting all mattered.

Near the beginning, I wondered how things could hold up for the length of a movie. Spending more time on some of the paintings is the only way to get a sense of what they convey. Not being able to control how long is the down side. Overall, the length of the movie and the amount of time spent in each area is perhaps the best compromise.

It's not merely the age of the paintings, or what they show. It goes beyond showing how wildlife factored into in everyday life. In some cases, it was the first indication of what certain extinct species looked like alive or how they lived and congregated. Other artifacts in the caves gave information about tools or music of the era(s), such as flutes with tuned chromatic scales. Apparently, many modern things were invented in ancient times. This film provided breathtaking footage of caves that are off limits to almost everybody, and at times a tad too much speculation. What was prehistoric is now history.

The film worked well on a big screen in 3D. It will lose a lot in 2D and on a smaller screen, but a 3D disc might turn out to be the best way to revisit certain features, view them at your own pace, and not let the narration sidetrack you.
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on February 25, 2015
Everybody should watch this with a group of friends such as we did -- a scientist, a theologian, a superintendent of schools and an assortment of avid readers. A lively discussion ensued and lasted into the night.
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