There's a moment in 'Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs' that really connected to me, a single idea that was so well thought out, so ingeniously placed and planned that it quickly changed the dynamic of the entire mini-documentary. As numerous sarcophaguses are being removed from their three thousand year old resting place, narrator Christopher Lee reads a line stating that history will remember these particular men because their bodies, unlike the billions of others who have died with no trace of ever existing, were well preserved, and through a touch of both luck and fate, survived the passage of time. In doing so, they became immortal, fulfilling the destinies given to them through the mummification process. For every line about the body preparation and the various elements that help preserve the mummies, suddenly there's the payoff, one that was obviously different than the one intended by those involved in the process.
The scientific minds behind 'Mummies' and their insight into the ancient Egyptian cultures they study are what makes the mini-documentary such an interesting yet educational film. The way they take the beliefs of civilizations they've spent their lives studying as Egyptologists and archaeologists and look inward, drawing new meanings into the beliefs held by those performing the rituals, as well as the history of grave and tomb robbing as well as the various means and methods through which Egyptian mummies have been discovered is a real treat, a nice, fresh perspective on a matter that is no stranger to anyone, after a number of major discoveries in the last century and a half, in a profession romanticized in fiction by the 'Mummy' films (both 1932 and 1999), and even, in a sense, the 'Indiana Jones' series.
Much as Dinosaurs leave behind fossils, our only way to prove they ever existed, the mummies are our best link to the ruling class of Egyptians from so long ago. But the difference, that these bodies survived the passage of time mostly intact, and the rituals and meanings behind it, is the mystery that perplexes us even to today. The scientists behind 'Mummies' look to cast a light into the history of Egypt through the numerous historical mummy discoveries, the interesting stories behind them, and the answers that may be found even today through these dead bodies.
I'm not a fan of features that are heavy on historical reenactments, since they're often so ridiculous and cheesy that any interest I had in the subject will fade as the same clips are shown over and over, like the existence of some piece of film made in 2008 or so is some kind of evidence of a person who lived two thousand years ago. Almost every feature of this sort has been amateur on an Ed Wood scale, so it's nice to see that 'Mummies' avoids the cliche by instead making a fast paced feature that focuses as much on the present day methods to analyze these bodies as the past tense recreated scenes, both from ancient times to the 19th century discoveries.
On top of avoiding the genre pifalls, 'Mummies' also has great, great narration, as the deepened with age, unique voice that is Lee's signature is perfect for reading anything and coming through as convincing and classy. When there were a few segments that briefly lost my interest, I was still intrigued due to the fact that I enjoy hearing Lee speak almost as much as I like hearing Patrick Stewart churn through exposition. Also worth noting, the recreations aren't heavy on dialogue, instead acting without words, so as to not draw away from the significance of the science or narration. They're honestly not bad, at all, even if a few of the random appearances seem bizarre and cheesy.
'Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs' is above all things an educational tool, and in that regard, it earns an A+. It's also very good filmmaking, with good visuals, interesting science, insight and thought, as well as a number of well acted recreations that help us connect to the subject matter. The runtime flies right on by in an instant, another plus, and you're left with a new respect for the subject, even if the hard work put out by archaeologists is left behind in the dust. History by happenstance, and sheer luck, the story of the mummies is one that will continue to be written as we become better equipped to truly understand what mysteries and answers the bodies keep. Until then, they're by far one of the most interesting relics we have today from our past.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs' arrives on Blu-ray from Image Entertainment on a Region A/B/C BD25 disc that contains both the 2D and 3D versions of the film. The menu itself will be 2D on regular sets, and 3D on 3DTVs. This feature is also included on the IMAX Triple Feature disc (alongside 'Galapagos' and 'Into the Deep') that is included in the 'How to Train Your Dragon' Samsung starter packs.
While this release contains both the 2D and 3D versions of the film, and is the only Blu-ray release for either (in other words, there are no standalone editions), the video presentation portion of this review will focus on the 3D edition of the film.
'Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs' may be the best looking Blu-ray 3D title put out by Image so far. The 1080p 1.78:1 framed picture has the least amount of crosstalk, as well as plenty of sharp high definition images to create a great balance. Still, it has a few problems that prevent it from being IMAX 3D demo material. Picture depth is superb, with amazing clarity and definition that will not disappoint. Colors are bold, and black levels are sharp and crisp. Ghosting is only a very minor issue, as a few dark shots, as well as a couple random artifacts remain in the picture, but 'Mummies' has the least ghosting of any Image 3D title, by far, and each instance is thin and non-intrusive. The dark shot where the royal tomb is first entered has a problem, but that shot is too tight and small, anyways. There is some slight banding, most noticeably in the prominent shot of the moon, as well as some aliasing problems on tight horizontal lines in panning shots. Stairstepping comes up a few times, like on a few mummies, as well as the tips of sand dunes in the opening. I would like to think that the men and women behind the historical recreation shots made it easier for their actors to walk, but sadly, I know that's not the case.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix given to 'Mummies' is hardly all that special. In fact, it's by the books, plain jane, and about as innovative as adding a clock radio to a kitchen appliance. Dialogue and narration never stray from the front speakers, nor does much of anything. Rears get some good score, as well as some very light ambience, but that's it. Bass is unused save for a huge thump near the end, and a very light accent in the score. There are no dynamics issues, and no audio hiccups, just a passable track that's straightforward and generic.
'Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs' isn't for everyone, but those who can appreciate the past, and potential theories concerning it will find a ton to enjoy here. A superb narrating job by a superb actor may be the highlight, but there's a lot to learn here, and it isn't at all boring. This Blu-ray 3D release has great video, average audio, and a single extra, though there are three 3D trailers on top. With the budget price, it's hard to pass this one up.