The IMAX film ‘Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs’ is a sadly misleading documentary on ancient Egypt, how people were mummified, and the work that went into the elaborate tombs in which they were buried.
The film, narrated by Christopher Lee, lightly glosses over ancient Egyptian history. When I say lightly, I mean very lightly. This documentary is only 39 minutes long. Within those 39 minutes, we get numerous reenactments of ancient rituals, testimonies from modern day scientists, and an experiment on a modern mummy that may reveal facts on curing malaria.
The problem is that with all the information presented, the film never, ever takes a position or sticks to anything in particular. It flounders back and forth between different subjects that would all require their own documentary to do them justice.
Far too much time is spent on a reenactment of a Egyptologist in the 1800s who went looking for the tomb of Ramases. Most of the tombs in Egypt had been robbed and plundered shortly after the burials. If an intact tomb, with mummies, could be found, it would be the find of the archeological century.
Then suddenly we jump back to two scientists who have made a modern day mummy and hope to learn the best places where DNA can be extracted. We’re told that if they could find out, maybe it would help them look at ancient forms of malaria and compare them to today’s strains of the disease.
The search for a cure for malaria is the most interesting part of this film, but it doesn’t go anywhere. We’re just left hanging after 39 minutes with a casual “this may help” feeling, but nothing concrete. When the film is over you may find yourself saying, “That’s it? Really?” You’ll wonder if there’s actually another disc you have to put in to finish it. Sadly, there isn’t, and the abrupt ending sours the overall film.
What a let down.
The VC-1-encoded 1080p transfer of the original 65mm IMAX film is, for the most part, a pristine looking and beautiful piece of work. The clarity of the ripples in the rolling sand dunes is precise. This high-def transfer showcases all the fine details and intricacies that are picked up by the 65mm film. At one point, we see a beetle scurry across the sand leaving tiny footprints that are distinctly visible. The reenactments of ancient Egypt are colorful and full of lively hues.
There is one moment in the film that is supposed to reenact what Egyptians thought heaven might be like. The saturation is turned up and it gives the piece an almost eye-blistering, unwatchable quality for about 40 or so seconds. Other than that minor piece of the whole, this is a great transfer of an otherwise lacking film.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio presentation is satisfactory, but not overly amazing. The narration and dialogue are clearly presented in the front channels, while the soundtrack music and sound effects bleed into the surround channels. At times, like with any History Channel type reenactment, some of the special effects sounds (battle scenes in particular) feel a bit forced, like they were fabricated instead of natural. On the other hand, the reenactment of an Egyptian rain storm is quite enveloping.
The documentary explores some interesting material, but at 39 minutes covers too much too fast, and never supplies any answers to the questions that are raised. 'Secrets of the Pharoahs' spreads itself too thin and then never has time to come back around and wrap things up for the audience. The well done video and audio presentations are a plus, but this is only recommended as a rental since the information given is only surface at best. A better documentary is waiting to be made about these same subjects.