Universal acclaim - based on 34 Critics What's this?

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Generally favorable reviews- based on 43 Ratings

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  • Summary: For over 20,000 years, Chauvet Cave has been completely sealed off by a fallen rock face, its crystal-encrusted interior as large as a football field and strewn with the petrified remains of giant ice age mammals. In 1994, scientists discovered the caverns, and found hundreds of pristine paintings within, spectacular artwork dating back over 30,000 years (almost twice as old as any previous finds) to a time when Neanderthals still roamed the earth and cave bears, mammoths, and ice age lions were the dominant populations of Europe. Since then, only a handful of specialists have stepped foot in the cave, and the true scope of its contents had largely gone unfelt—until Werner Herzog managed to gain access. Filming in 3D, Herzog captures the wonder and beauty of one of the most awe-inspiring sites on earth, all the while musing in his inimitable fashion about its original inhabitants, the birth of art, and the curious people surrounding the caves today. (IFC Films)

Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 32 out of 34
  2. Negative: 0 out of 34
  1. Reviewed by: Joe Neumaier
    Apr 29, 2011
    Director Werner Herzog's latest cinematic mind trip blows you away with its beauty.
  2. Reviewed by: Manohla Dargis
    Apr 28, 2011
    The 3-D is sometimes less than transporting, and the chanting voices in the composer Ernst Reijseger's new-agey score tended to remind me of my last spa massage. Yet what a small price to pay for such time traveling!
  3. Reviewed by: Lisa Schwarzbaum
    Apr 27, 2011
    This truly intimate film invites viewers to commune as well and feel a profound living connection with fellow humans of 30,000 years ago.
  4. Reviewed by: Joe Williams
    May 6, 2011
    Imagine an opulent movie palace that was 30,000 years old, with posters preserved on the curving walls and the bones of the Stone Age patrons peacefully sleeping in the fairy dust. That's essentially what archeologists found in a French canyon in 1994 and what Werner Herzog brings back to life in the extraordinary documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams.
  5. Reviewed by: Shawn Levy
    May 6, 2011
    It is, in a way, the first glimpse of the cinema, right there at the dawn of humankind. And it is utterly remarkable to see.
  6. Reviewed by: Adam Smith
    Apr 25, 2011
    A typically quixotic documentary in which great unknown artists from 35,000 years ago collaborate with one in 2011. Profound, mysterious and utterly absorbing.
  7. Reviewed by: J. Hoberman
    Apr 26, 2011
    For better or worse, the movie does for Chauvet what Baudrillard complained an on-site replica did for Lascaux-render the real thing false.

See all 34 Critic Reviews

Score distribution:
  1. Positive: 9 out of 15
  2. Negative: 3 out of 15
  1. May 17, 2011
    More than 30,000 years ago, our human ancestors entered the Chauvet Cave in southern France and, for reasons unknown but pondered about for millennia, they created cave paintings. These are the oldest known paintings to exist. The pictures depict magnificent animals, including lions, horses, rhinos, and extinct cave bears and panthers. The soft cave floor is littered with bones (100% of them are from animals) including many well preserved skulls of the extinct cave bear which would have spent much time in such caves. Beautiful patterns have emerged after thousands of years of slow dripping water and the ambiance is only enhanced by the drastic shift from large chambers with high ceilings to tight spaces with almost no room to move. The cave was first explored in 1994 and due to the fact that it had been sealed by a long ago rock collapse, it was most likely the first time in over 20,000 years anyone had entered the cave.

    Werner Herzog has a distinct style, and anyone who has seen some of his films will recognize immediately that this is a Herzog film. As in a favorite film of mine, Grizzly Man, he uses wonderful shots of his subject spliced with entertaining interviews by key figures. He expounds upon the bigger questions such as 'why' did people draw these and what could it have meant in a broader scheme of humanity. Experts are interviewed in various fields of science and the humanities who all bring unique perspectives to the subject matter. There are wonderful asides that touch on similar cave findings, such as bone fragments turned into flute-like instruments, signaling the importance of not just art but music to people throughout time. Anecdotes about the history of the region including the large glaciers which covered the area before melting add a nice touch.

    Herzog and his team were hindered greatly by the French government (justifiably) who would only allow filming under the most strict guidelines. Just a crew of 4, shooting for 4 hours per day, for just one week and they were only allowed a few small, battery run lights, all the while confined 100% of the time to a small, 2 foot wide walkway built throughout the cave which no one is allowed to leave for fear of tampering with the well preserved cave. Herzog filmed in 3D which, for the first time in my life, I can say was absolutely the perfect solution to portraying the amazing cave in its entirety. The paintings are made throughout the cave on contoured walls which, it would seem, were purposely put there so as to add to the dimensions and the storytelling of the paintings. Herzog draws a wonderful parallel to what it must have looked like by torchlight 30,000 years ago. There is even evidence that some of the paintings have etchings around them to create depth. Several paintings are drawn with multiple legs and horns, clearly attempting to depict movement among the animals. There is a unique piece of wall covered in red hand prints. Interestingly, there is a distinct defect in the print of the little finger on one of the hands, and this hand can be traced to multiple red hand prints throughout the cave, meaning the team is able to trace the path of a single individual from so many thousands of years ago.

    One of the most interesting aspects of the film comes from an area of the cave which cannot be fully seen from the walkway. A partial view of one of only 2 paintings in the cave which depict some form of the human body. It appears to be the lower body of a woman with the head of a bullish creature. Herzog is eventually allowed to place a camera on a long crane to get a better view. It is not so much the shot of the painting that is astounding as is the questions that are raised by such figures. What were our ancestors thinking when they drew these paintings of animals, and more specifically, when they drew this painting of half woman half beast? What did they believe about the world and why were they so interested in recording visually what they saw around them? This is a beautiful film and one enhanced largely via 3D technology.
  2. Oct 2, 2011
    I was breathless at some of the sights in this was a 3D screening and, in addition to my 3d glasses, I admit I had a few glasses of wine before...but this is more gold from Herzog. It seemed the theatre was taking on a whole new purpose as we were all transported and given access to the cave via his vision. Thank you! Expand
  3. Jan 3, 2013
    Yet another inspired talk-o-mentary by master Herzog. This time about a 32 000-year window into the past of our ancestors. Like nothing out there. The footage itself musto be on its way to the UNESCO. Must-see. Expand
  4. May 22, 2011
    It is extremely hard to review a documentary like this. One learns a lot but is really unable to be overwhelmed due to the availability of the cave I thought the minimalist approach here did not suffice to make a full length film.Thus, I found myself desiring more when maybe more is not available. Expand
  5. Dec 17, 2011
    Loved the introduction to the subject, but found Herzog a bit tiresome. The interviews were also quaint and full of cliche. Recommend sticking it out till the end however because the artwork is awe inspiring. Expand
  6. Oct 18, 2011
    Fascinating and beautiful, but an hour and a half movie? Please! It was so LONG! We were forced to see the same images over, and over, and over, and over. How many times can a camera sweep past the same image before we scream "Enough already, UNCLE" I get it, I get it, the cave has been sealed off for 20,000 years and we should feel privileged to be able to see the insides of it, but this should have been an 8-minute film that is shown in a museum as guests are strolling about at an exhibit. An exhibit, mind you, where the film was included with your museum's entrance fee. At least then you could stop and watch the images for a couple of minutes, say "Wow" and "Beautiful", and then move on without the empty feeling I had after paying to see it in the theatre. The end of the film is really bizarre and should be studied in film schools. I'm still trying to decipher it's meaning. Expand
  7. Dec 17, 2011
    As usual, Herzog ruins whatever he puts his hands on. His narrative, with his spaced out voice, is boring, lifeless and depressing. At the very least, if you show a 'secret'. don't show the human made steel door that locks the secret in, because that kills off all illusion right away. The documentary is just like his movies, weird, drawn out, and basically unwatchable. To constantly stare at people who are nailed to the ground, speechless and in awe, becomes rather nauseating quickly. Herzog always seems like someone who belongs locked up in a Bhuddist monastery, he is clearly looking for something that can usually only be seen and found through the use of drugs. In short, simply horrible. Please do not let this man near a camera, ever again. Expand

See all 15 User Reviews

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