Cave of Forgotten Dreams


Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Once you've seen one awe-inspiring cave drawing, you've seen 'em all.

(2010) Documentary (Sundance Selects) Werner Herzog, Dominique Baffier, Jean Clottes, Jean-Michel Geneste, Carole Fritz, Gilles Tosello, Michel Philippe, Julien Monney, Nicholas Conard, Wulf Hein, Maria Malina, Maurice Maurin. Directed by Werner Herzog

We are merely part of an endless unbroken line of vessels, stretching back tens of thousands of years to our earliest human ancestors. The line between us and them is not nearly so tenuous as you might think.

In 1994, rock climbers in the South of France discovered Chauvet Cave, a cave of unusual beauty and grandeur. That, however, is not why the great filmmaker Werner Herzog bothered to make a documentary. The cave is also home to the earliest known examples of cave art, dating back some 35,000 years.

The paintings are incredibly fragile and access to the caves is thus justifiably limited to only a few weeks a year, and only to scientists. Herzog had to receive special permission to film in the cave, and even then with a bare bones crew with lights that emit no heat and are battery operated as all his equipment had to be. They could only walk on metal planks two feet wide, and couldn’t touch the walls. They had to wear special suits that would prevent contamination of the fragile cavern eco-system and enter through a steel door that is locked electronically.

But the beauty behind that door! Scenes of horses, moving en masse; wooly rhinoceroses battling, the seductive form of a woman with a bison’s head, all drawn on curving walls and projections, giving the illusion of three dimensionality, which is why this documentary was filmed in 3D so that viewers could get the proper effect. It still gives me goosebumps that these are depictions of animals that have not walked the earth for tens of thousands of years but were witnessed by human eyes.

The drawings themselves are surprisingly sophisticated given the circumstance. The animals are shown to be in motion; you can almost hear the horses whinny. The cave sparkles with crystals from the calcification process of limestone stalagtites and stalagmites, adding an otherworldly air to a cave that is already locked in time. It was almost perfectly sealed off from the ravages of the elements when the cliff face collapsed and sealed it shut. That served to preserve everything inside it, allowing us to see these amazing drawings 35,000 years later.

There are a lot of interviews here with scientists, some of whom are a bit quirky (like the German musicologist who plays the Star Spangled Banner on an ivory flute similar to ones found in nearby caves, or the programmer who used to be a circus acrobat). All of them are clearly affected on a very deep level by the cave and the artwork within.

The interesting thing is that the cave wasn’t really a habitation. Cave bears lived in the cave (their scratches, footprints and bones are all over) and humans used it for what appears to be ceremonial purposes. We can only speculate at this point but some of the positioning of stones and skulls in the cave lead some scientists to theorize that religious ceremonies took place there.

This isn’t a scientific lecture however, although obviously scientists play an important role in the cinematic experience (occasionally too much – the movie might have been better served letting the images speak for themselves more often). Herzog isn’t interested so much in explaining things, but letting the audience come to their own conclusions. He is not asking questions like “what did they use to get those colors” or “what manner of worship was conducted there.” He instead asks questions like “When did humans first get their soul?” and “What makes us human?” which in my opinion are far more worthy and interesting questions to ask.

This is the kind of movie that is going to stay with you for a very long time. It will percolate in your head, change color and shape and lead you to examine greater questions about our place in history. Will it change your life? I can’t say that it will and I won’t say that it won’t, but it will almost certainly change your perception of life. A movie that brings out a genuine feeling of awe in the audience is rare enough and should be experienced without delay if it comes to a theater near you.

REASONS TO GO: You can’t help but be awed by the power of the cave drawings, and the scientists interviewed convey that awe.

REASONS TO STAY: Too many talking heads.

FAMILY VALUES: Might be a little too tedious for those with short attention spans but otherwise great for families.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The movie is co-produced by the History Channel’s motion picture arm, History Films. This is their first feature release.

HOME OR THEATER: This must be seen in a theater for maximum viewing impact.

FINAL RATING: 8.5/10

TOMORROW: Paranormal Activity

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs


Dino line dancing - the next big Hollywood trend.

Dino line dancing - the next big Hollywood trend.

(20th Century Fox) Starring the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Queen Latifah, Simon Pegg, Seann William Scott, Kirsten Wiig, Chris Wedge, Jane Lynch, Josh Peck, Bill Hader, Karen Disher. Directed by Carlos Saldanha and Mike Thurmeier.

For most of us, family isn’t the only thing – it’s everything. There are also all sorts of families, some not so readily apparent as others.

The Ice Age is in full swing and Ellie the Mammoth (Latifah) is expecting a child any day now. Her mate Manny (Romano) is of course as bumbling, moronic and well-intentioned as most cinematic expectant fathers. He builds a playground on which he has stuck snowballs to blunt the sharp branches on trees and beaks on birds. He goes into paroxysms of panic whenever Ellie has indigestion. Still, it’s a great time to be a mammoth. Everything is as it should be, with friends all around and Scrat (Wedge) chasing the ever-elusive acorns.

Still, not all is well in paradise. Diego the saber-toothed tiger (Leary) and Sid the sloth (Leguizamo) are feeling a bit left out. Diego, who is losing some of his predatory edge, having been outrun by a gazelle (Hader), decides to leave for greener pastures. Sid, being Sid, finds some strange eggs in an underground cavern and decides to adopt them as his own children. Scrat has discovered a rival, the seductive flying squirrel Scratte (Disher) who is maddeningly attractive.

Then the eggs hatch and instead of furry little mammals there are carnivorous reptiles – big ones. Think Tyrannosaurus Rex-sized. What’s worse, Mama Rex has come looking for her missing babies and is none-too-pleased to find them with warm-blooded types. She picks them up – and Sid too – and carries them back underground.

As annoying as Sid is, his friends decide to band up once again and go search for him in the cavern. Although Manny and Diego are skeptical as to Sid’s survival chances, Ellie and her entourage – Crash (Scott) and Eddie (Peck) the possums – are insistent, so down below they go.

They find a whole new world there, one of lush tropical vegetation, lava falls and lots and lots of dinosaurs. Some are friendly, some not so much. No time to wonder how this world got here or how it can sustain itself, they’ve got to find Sid. However, they need a guide to this world that is unfamiliar and dangerous. One is provided in Buck (Pegg), a one-eyed weasel (make of that what you will) who has spent years tracking down the gigantic white dinosaur who took his eye. Ahab, meet Moby Dick.

I will say this about Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs – the animation is superb, keeping the cartoon-like qualities that satisfy the kids but keeping it real to satisfy their parents. Strangely, though, the performances are a bit flat. There’s no sense of fun and wonder that made the first two Ice Age movies so entertaining. Instead, you get the feeling that this was rushed through for the sole purpose of filling a spot on the Fox release schedule and making the big bucks that the first two did.

There is also a lot more of Scrat and his new partner here. Scrat has become more popular in many ways than the main characters of the story are. They use him for the trailers as well as the advertisements. Scrat, as in the first two movies, almost never interacts with the main characters. While his sequences are among the best and funniest in the movie, they seem almost like commercial interruptions and I suppose in a way they are. Gotta sell that Scrat merch, after all. Still, I’ve always loved the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote cartoons and the Scrat sequences are a lot like that.

This is very kid-friendly in every way with all that implies. When stacked up against the Pixar and DreamWorks movies, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaur doesn’t compare very favorably. Still in all, it’s a pleasant if unchallenging 90 minutes of summertime fun, and the kids are going to want to see it regardless of whether you do or not. Accordingly, make plans to buy this for the tykes if you intend to have any peace in your household over the next few months. Don’t forget the toys, action figures and video games that are sure to be demanded in the wake of the movie.

REASONS TO GO: Extremely well-animated. Nothing here is all that offensive, and the Scrat sequences are hysterical at times.

REASONS TO STAY: Kind of boring, kind of bland.

FAMILY VALUES: Perfect summertime entertainment for bored kids – not so much for their parents.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The Buck character was based not on Crocodile Dundee so much, but on Frank Buck, a legendary hunter and adventurer whose exploits inspired the TV series “Bring ‘em Back Alive.”

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: The Expanded 2-Disc DVD and Blu-Ray editions include the Scrat Pack, a collection of every Scrat short ever made, some of which are included on DVD editions of the first two films. There are also a couple of Ice Age games. Surprisingly, the DVD is presented in 2D whereas it was released theatrically in 3D. That’s a shame, because the 3D presentation was one of the best of recent years.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Amelia