By Clark Collis
Updated November 28, 2011 at 05:00 AM EST
Mark Valesella

Throughout his career, Werner Herzog has moved many metaphorical mountains — and even hauled a ship over a real one for his 1982 jungle-set opus Fitzcarraldo. His fascinating new documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams finds the German filmmaker once again indulging his passion for doing really difficult things.

This time, his subject is the Chauvet Cave in France. The place was discovered in 1994 and is famous for its prehistoric wall paintings of animals — horses, lions, rhinoceroses — that date back an astonishing 32,000 years. The French government strictly limits access to this archaeological find. Visitors must remain on a metal walkway from which some of the artwork isn’t even visible. That didn’t deter Herzog, who also decided to shoot his film in 3-D.

The result is worth the trouble — mostly. Eye-popping on a 40-foot screen, Herzog’s stereoscopic efforts are greatly diminished on TV. And while the film is available in both 3-D and 2-D versions for home viewing, those who choose the latter will not be missing much. Regardless of the format, the paintings are amazing. These ancient images seem so alive you half expect to hear the sound of trampling hooves echoing down through the millennia, although the soundtrack by cellist Ernst Reijseger is powerfully haunting. (A film about the film’s music is the disc’s sole notable EXTRA.)

Herzog himself, a dominating presence in his 2005 Grizzly Man doc, looms less large here. But the idiosyncratic Teuton does, rather marvelously, name-check Baywatch at one point in his voice-over. Maybe David Hasselhoff is even bigger in Germany than we thought. B+