Over the weekend we went to see Cave of Forgotten Dreams at the Magic Theatre. It was in 2-D so I can't comment on the 3-D aspects of the movie, but from what I have heard the 3-D is well done, and adds a good deal to the images presented.
The movie is a documentary, directed by Werner Herzog, about the Chauvet Cave in France. It is the location of the worlds oldest cave paintings, between 30,000 and 40,000 years old. The cave was sealed up by a landslide about 20,000 years ago, and only discovered in 1994. There are a ton of paintings in it, and they are remarkably well preserved. Very few people are allowed in the cave, and typically for limited times for research purposes. The movie has a lot of footage from inside the cave, and interviews with various people associated with the paintings. First I will talk about the movie itself, and then afterwards about the subject matter of the film.
The movie was beautiful. The images it captures, both inside the cave and in the surrounding areas, are breathtaking. They used a variety of techniques to get some very cool shots, and the entire time I was mesmerized. I thought the score was great, and overall it was one of the most artfully done documentaries I have seen. The interviews were informative, and it covered a lot of different aspects of the discovery, from the science side of things as well as the historical and archaeological side. I learned much I didn't know about prehistoric people and the beasts they lived with.
The movie was an experience that washed over you. It wasn't meant to be merely educational or entertaining. Much of it simply displayed art from the cave, or the natural formations in the cave, to music with some minimal narration. I liked how it was put together, as most of the time the videography spoke for itself. I definitely feel like if I had watched it at home it would have lost some of the grandeur it had on the big screen. It is a very visual movie, and so I think part of what made it so good was having a medium that allowed us to really be surrounded by the movie. It isn't one to watch whilst distracted.
The post script was very odd. I tried to give Herzog the benefit of the doubt, but for me at least it was a bit jarring, and took me out of the mindset he had been generating for the rest of the movie.
Now to the content.
The whole movie left me dumbfounded, with so much to think about, I have spent the last few days processing it. The thing that Herzog didn't call too much attention to in narration is just how amazing the artwork is on the walls. The paintings are beautiful, with an incredible sense of proportion and personality. There are tons of images, and they are all really cool. I think you can tell from the styles that there were many different artists that worked in the cave, and the carbon dating shows the drawings were made over the course of about 5000 years. They said that Neandrathal man was around when these paintings were made, as well as the early humans that made the art. The Neandrathals didn't have the culture that early man had though, as far as we can tell from archaeology. From that time period they have found cave art, sculpture, and musical instruments, which is just amazing to me.
The times involved were such that much of the formations inside the cave were created after the art in it was. The time between us and the people who did the drawings is almost unimaginable to me. 6 times the distance between us and ancient egypt (roughly). It's incredible to me that almost as soon as mankind emerged on the scene, art was being created. It speaks deeply to who we are as a species. As one of the interviewers in the movie said, we are not so much "homo sapiens" man who knows, as we are "homo spiritualis", spiritual man. Innate within us is the ability to create, and to transcend the simple gratification of our basic needs. It is a part of what it means to be human.