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Movie review: 'Cave of Forgotten Dreams,' 4 stars

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Cave of Forgotten Dreams
4 stars
Documentary by Werner Herzog

Rated G

Seventeen years ago, scientists discovered Chauvet Cave in southern France — and within it a trove of absurdly well-preserved cave art dating back 30,000 (as in four zeroes) years. In his 3-D documentary, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” Herzog tours this cave (which is closed to the public) with a small team of scientists and a skeleton production crew. Rest assured, the prehistoric sights will leave you speechless.

While treating us to his trademark self-dramatizing narration, Herzog lets the camera linger on ethereal images of galloping horses, bucking bison and battling rhinos, each of them as crisp and intact as if they’d been rendered yesterday. All around the cave are artifacts to further boggle the mind — a perfect bear vertebrae frosted over with calcite, fragments of coal, bear scratches in the floor. Then there’s the majesty of the cave itself, from glittering stalactites to undulating geological formations.

Herzog, never afraid to be humbled by nature, attempts to translate his wonderment into words: Who were the people who drew this art? What were their dreams? What manner of creatures inhabited their prehistoric world? His metaphysical poetry may not always be eloquent, or even coherent, but his raw musings echo the same emotion of awe felt by the audience.

All the beauty is heightened tenfold by 3-D. At times you feel you’re on an actual cave expedition, not in a movie theater. It’s a privilege to behold, so thank you, Werner, for the tour.

Playing at IFC Center (in 3-D) and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas (in 2-D)

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