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In 1994, a group of scientists discovered a cave in Southern France perfectly preserved for over 20,000 years and containing the earliest known human paintings. Knowing the cultural significance that the Chauvet Cave holds, the French government immediately cut-off all access to it, save a few archaeologists and paleontologists. But documentary filmmaker, Werner Herzog, has been given limited access, and now we get to go inside examining beautiful artwork created by our ancient ancestors around 32,000 years ago. He asks questions to various historians and scientists about what these humans would have been like and trying to build a bridge from the past to the present. Written by
I think what's extremely important is that we realize that archeology today is not a heroic adventure with spades and picks, but high tech scientific work that's done with incredible detail.
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This documentary managed to take a subject that is wondrous and thought-provoking seem completely and utterly boring. The film spends entirely too much time explaining how limited the access to the very delicate caves are, and provides almost no content for ones mind to grab hold of and explore. There is nowhere near enough information that puts the paintings in context. If I were a layperson viewing the film with absolutely no knowledge about prehistoric humans, the only information I would gather from the film is that it was much colder 30,000 years ago than it is today, and that there is currently a nuclear power plant not too far away from the site of the cave. Nothing about what may have inspired the prehistoric artists, what his or her motives may have been, or what techniques they may have used, are present in the film.
And don't get me started on the long, drawn out sweeps of the paintings themselves. I get it Werner, it was an awe-inspiring experience to physically be in the caves, but panning slowly over the same painting for 2 minutes straight without saying much about it won't get me to understand your sense of wonder. (Here comes a paraphrase...) "Do these paintings perhaps represent the birth of the human spirit?" No, Werner, you silly goose, they just offer an opportunity for someone very obviously ignorant of the subject to make vague poetic phrasings in a very weak attempt to invoke a sense of wonder about how far back our human heritage goes.
The "experimental archaeologist" seemed like a pretty cool guy. He played the star-spangled banner on a DIY flute made of bone in what was probably a homemade pair of deer pants, fur boots, and a very snazzy long sleeve fur tunic.
Overall this documentary would have been satisfactory if it were 1 hour shorter (i.e. roughly 30 minutes long). It offers very little information, repetitive footage, and an aimless narrative at best. I've read many of the reviews written about the film on this illustrious IMDb website, and most of the authors make more inspiring extrapolations about the content than Mr. Herzog was able to. Somewhere deep in an undiscovered cave, a caveman is turning in his grave.
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