The career of German director Werner Herzog is a long and varied one that has mixed feature films with documentaries, forming a resume that has yielded as many classics (Aguirre: The Wrath of God) as misfires (this year’s first Herzog title, My Son My Son What Have Ye Done). He’s even eaten a shoe on camera! Unfortunately, somewhere in these last few years Herzog has became a bit of a hipster joke with his appearance on The Simpsons and an online meme where a Herzog impersonator narrates a particularly verbose edition of Where’s Wally. There are certainly parts of his latest film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which feel like one big absurd gag being pulled by the director. It could’ve been good if it were actually funny, alas…
That familiar thick, monotone accent of his is put to excessive use in his latest film, a 3D documentary that traces the origins of the historic Chauvet Cave paintings in France. Fascinating artworks by early man, sure, but they’re let down by Herzog’s long, rambling soliloquies about the history of homosapiens, albino crocodiles, and Baywatch. When he isn’t talking and inserting himself into the proceedings for no reason whatsoever, Herzog’s camera navigates the cave in arduous endurance-testing sequences of wordless splendour. These sequences would have been right at home in a 45-minute IMAX film, but stretched out to 90 minutes they are tiresome. As the camera roams the caves, the stalagmites and stalactites jut out of the screen and it can’t be denied that the 3D here is an important feature and a well-executed one. However, during the talking head interviews with dull-as-dishwater geologists, it is unnecessary and rather flat.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams has proven to be an unlikely box office hit – most likely due to the novelty of the three dimensions, as well as Herzog’s recent pop culture success. It’s a shame that this success (it’s showings at the recent Melbourne International Film Festival were all but sold out) wasn’t for a better film.
That the location Herzog is giving audiences a peek into is so rich and fascinating only makes Cave of Forgotten Dreams more of a bitter disappointment. What could have been a truly interesting look into our origins with a look at something so rare and unseen, becomes little more than a stomping ground for Herzog’s yammering. As a 3D exercise it’s certainly a far better use of the technology than almost all the Hollywood blockbusters, but no matter how many dimensions this film proposes to have, it never reaches past one-dimensional filmmaking.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams was released in Australia September 22nd
Director: Werner Herzog