Pharaoh to Midland
Mysteries of Egypt
Review by Ross Anthony

"Excellent, especially since I've been to Egypt," an adult viewer commented. I also asked an 11-year-old girl her thoughts. "Cool!" she said, "we're studying Egypt in school."

The film begins with the death of a young boy ... King Tut. It tells the tale of many a buried pharaoh while working its way up the pyramids (so to speak) until the discovery of Tut's tomb in 1922. An older gent recounts the story of these elite kings to his granddaughter as they sit in an Egyptian restaurant. His narration is fine, however, the acting prowess of the two is rather dry and arid; fortunately, returns to the restaurant are equally few and brief.

While making some efforts toward "kiddization" for the younger viewer, this film is primarily a documentary of traditional making. As a documentary it is interesting and educational ... but as an IMAX presentation, it's rather lacking.

I enjoyed the aerial passage through the Nile and especially the superimposition of a map of Africa on the river's surface during the maneuver. Very nice. Waterfalls, cliff-hanging trees, a rainbow reflected off the lens. Also stimulating the senses ... awesomely deep resonances of a heavy stone as it slides over the tomb of a mummy. An aerial shot or two of the pyramids stands out as well.

But for the most part ... I didn't feel in Egypt. I felt in a documentary. Artifacts, jewelry, statues, obelisks, all displayed as if the IMAX camera were a 35mm SLR still camera. So much more could have been done to bring me there. The most blaring omission - Cairo. Some years ago, I spent a week in Egypt ... so alluring was this city that I allotted six of those seven days in Cairo. But "Mysteries of Egypt" completely neglects this vibrant colorful town, even though three pyramids and the Sphinx lay just minutes by Mysteries of Egyptbus from the city center. You can barely see it in the background of a few shots in the film, I'm sure that at least a low copter sequence from above Cairo out to the desert would have greatly widened the viewer's perspective. This fantastic contrast of civilizations screams for the screen. Better yet, put the camera in a Cairo cab, even at real time speed, that'd make for an awesome rush to the pyramids. And if time were a problem, the whole sequence could be sped up as not to lose focus on the "mysteries" aspect.

Additionally, not until five minutes to the conclusion did the production offer us reference objects to the size of the pyramids. Shot respectably, we still don't get a feeling for their immensity, unless a passerby passes by (or a car or a camel). This would also be a grand opportunity to show a bit of current culture ... a couple of kids kicking a soccer ball alongside, etc.

Several reenactments are portrayed. In the most effective one, workers lug the huge bricks up a mud ramp. This very nicely communicates the theory. Perfectly visual, little else need be said. However, a lone water boy is the only worker who appears to be scuffed by the dirt or sand and exhausted from his labors - he alone is believable.

Lastly, in one particular scene Grandpa mentions, "It takes knowledge of engineering, organization, mathematics and geometry to create such structures." While I'm glad mention is made, show me! This is an IMAX presentation, back up those words with images. Show me how the math I learned in high school was used (this could be done quickly - in less than 10 seconds). A geometry teacher scratches chalk to a schoolroom blackboard, dissolve to an ancient Egyptian digging shapes into the sand, dissolve to the pyramid over the sketches. And I want the same eye-candy for engineering and organization etc. The mention of astronomy begged for a shot of the stars ... but none was given.

One last missing piece, how did Carter know where to look for Tut? I think kids would really "dig" the "hide and seek" sport of this hunt.

Overall, a decent 1970's style documentary, but this archeological film barely scratches the surface of the sweeping IMAX potential.

  • Mysteries of Egypt. Copyright © 2000.
  • Starring Omar Sharif, Kate Maberly.
  • Directed by Bruce Neibaur.
  • Director of Photography: Reed Smoot.
  • Produced by Lisa Truitt, Scott Swofford at National Geographics/Destination.


Copyright © 2000. Ross Anthony, currently based in Los Angeles, has scripted and shot documentaries, music videos, and shorts in 35 countries across North America, Europe, Africa and Asia. For more reviews visit:

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Last Modified: Saturday, 16-Sep-2006 08:03:21 PDT