I am not a fan of this current wave of 3D movies. I've only seen a handful of studio pictures that use the format, and it seems as though the directors are so hell-bent on avoiding the hammy old "Gotcha!" shots – the paddle-ball-at-the-camera stunts from '50s 3D flicks like House of Wax – that they've drained the joy out of the gimmick. It adds little to the film's visuals (as in Thor and even in Avatar) and leaves me feeling like I'd been tricked into shelling out an extra four dollars for a movie that does not benefit from the third dimension.
So far, only two recent features have actually made compelling artistic use of 3D: the stop-motion animated film Coraline and Werner Herzog's latest offbeat documentary, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, about the spectacular Stone Age paintings discovered in France's Chauvet Cave in 1994. The key, I think, is in texture: 3D doesn't add much magic when you know you're just looking at computer graphics. But Coraline's exquisite handmade miniatures really make you feel like you're peering into a tiny world, and Forgotten Dreams uses the depth to explore the undulating cave walls that the prehistoric artists themselves used to add an extra dimension to their depictions of horses, lions, and the like.
Herzog, knowing how limited his production time was (in order to protect the paintings, which at 32,000 years are the oldest works of art on Earth, only a select few people are allowed inside the cave), decided to make the most of it, and essentially puts us inside these beautiful caverns to enjoy the paintings at our leisure. It's a captivating experience.
It is a slow-moving but hypnotic film, kept alive by Herzog's narration and – Herzog being Herzog – a supporting cast of wonderfully eccentric scientists whose passion for Chauvet Cave is palpable. Truly a must-see on the big screen and in 3D. Merely an interesting documentary otherwise.