Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"Cave of Forgotten Dreams" and atlatls

Werner Herzog's "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" was a great movie. It seemed like the first time that I really got my money's worth for a 3D movie.1 All these summer action movies that are using 3D favor wide open, expansive shots, perhaps to give it an "epic" feel. But since strong foreground/background contrast is rare, most of the 3D effect manifests itself as brief gimmicky-seeming shots where a spear seems to swing out toward the audience. "Cave", by contrast, depicts an enclosed space, where there is always strong contrast between foreground and background, so the 3D effect is quite pronounced; at times it seems like you're looking into a box.

And it is used to good effect. The Neolithic art in the cave was not painted on a flat surface, but undulating walls, curved stalactites, and rock curtains. The 3D effect provides a lot of useful visual information about how the art fits into the cave. And it's amazing, as light and shadow play over the space: in one scene, we can see a painting of a rhinoceros on the far wall. Nearer to the viewer, a sheet of rock juts out, on which is painted a pair of lions: it looks as if we are witnessing the lions sneak up on the rhinoceros from behind the cover of stone.

In the end, 3D does seem gimmicky, even though it's used well in this film. Film remains a two-dimensional medium, and the 3D effect is a visual trick: by the end of the movie, the effect became so disorienting that I had to take my glasses off and look away for a moment to readjust.

Herzog finds some really wonderfully nerdy people, like the experimental archaeologist and the fragrance expert. I do wish there was more atlatl: they are awesome. An atlatl dart is like a precursor to the bow and arrow, in which the energy stored and released in the flexing bow is instead stored and released in the flexing atlatl missile. IIRC, the atlatl dart in flight has a somewhat lower velocity than an arrow, but a much greater mass, so an atlatl dart can have greater penetration of the target. While atlatl darts may be better against large game, it's easier to carry numerous arrows than the larger darts. Fortunately the World Atlatl Association has some members across the river from Louisville.

MAKE also has a weekend project video on making atlatls, and YouTube has some videos of successful hunts with them of emu, bison, and hog.

1. I also enjoyed "Coraline", but the 3D there also seemed like a more gimmicky use of the effect.

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