Posted in: Disc Reviews by Gino Sassani on November 5th, 2009
“For the Egyptians, life was eternal. They searched the globe for ingredients to preserve their bodies and their immortality. With knowledge gained from centuries of practice, their priests have created the finnest mummies the world has ever known.”
Ever since Howard Carter first entered the tomb of the legendary King Tut, most of the world has had an incredible fascination with the mummies of ancient Egypt. Hollywood has done its best over the ages to create fear by making monsters of these preserved corpses. Universal and Boris Karloff started the ball rolling, and the recent Brandon Frasier films have added a funny/scary bent using the very latest in computer generated magic. From bandages to living sandstorms, we have been exposed to some fantastical mummies. Now IMAX brings us a look at what these wrapped ancients were really all about. Looking beyond the creatures of our nightmares this release captures the mystery of a long lost civilization in Mummies: Secrets Of The Pharaohs. There’s no talk of curses and monsters here. The real curse of these tombs is the litany of looters that have raped these places in the thousands of years since they were buried. Their greed has not only robbed the dead, but future generations from appreciating and learning from what they left behind.
Christopher Lee knows a think or two about mummies. He should. In 1959 he became Kharis, the Mummy for Hammer films. It also doesn’t hurt that he has one of those voices that is both dignified and menacing at the same time. He was the perfect choice narrate this IMAX presentation that takes us deep into the past and unleashes the secrets of the mummies of ancient Egypt.
In just a very short 38 minutes this feature covers a lot of ground. We get a lesson into the Egyptians’ religious beliefs about death and the afterlife. It is steeped in these beliefs that the necessity for mummification is revealed. They believed in an afterlife where their spirit and bodies traveled onward, if they were good in life. So these nobles were buried not only in carefully preserved bodies but with all of the things human bodies would need in their continued survival. Food and possessions were entombed with those fortunate enough to afford such lavish care.
The film continues with dramatic segments that demonstrate many of the customs that researchers have uncovered over the years. There is also a dramatization of the discovery of Rameses the Great along with 40 other of his elite pharaohs entombed in a massive grave to protect them from the looters that have plagued these tombs for millennia. The IMAX cameras take you to these locations as they appear today and through the magic of computer graphics give us a glimpse of how they looked thousands of years ago. There are some truly breathtaking sights to behold here. Finally we meet a scientist who has studied the mummification process. He has taken a donated body and turned it into a mummy. Sadly, they only really mention this here. You’re teased that you might get a glimpse of this project but never do.
The film focuses on Rameses the Great. He’s one of the better known pharaohs, and as the film points out, likely the only face we can view of a figure from the Bible. This was the pharaoh that Moses grew up with as a stepbrother and with whom he battled for the release of the Jewish slaves. Rameses also ruled for over 60 years, quite a feat of longevity for the age. In that time he built more monuments than all of the other pharaohs combined. Much of it survives today. The feature gives you an appreciation for these monuments and vestiges of an ancient civilization that can’t be gained by anything other than being there. This is as close as most of us will get. Not bad for 38 minutes.
Mummies: Secrets Of The Pharaohs is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The 1080p image is arrived at with a VC-1 codec. Because of its short running time you get a respectable bit rate even on this single layered disc. The picture is about as flawless as you can get. Colors are quite natural and bright at times. The Egyptian vistas are breathtaking. I can only imagine what this must have looked like on a giant screen. It’s pretty dang impressive here.
The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track isn’t near as majestic as the image. There aren’t any flaws; it’s just that most of the audio is the narration, so the presentation is controlled from front and center. I imagine this is where the theater experience might have been far better.
Making Of: (22:23) HD This is a very typical behind the scenes feature. A lot of the discussion is on making this for IMAX, so there’s an even greater concern for detail.
Mummies Quiz: Answer questions about the pharaohs.
I’ve always been fascinated by mummies, both real and imagined. While I never saw this in its intended IMAX theater presentation, I do get the sense that it must have looked pretty awesome at times. This high definition Blu-ray release is absolutely a good substitution. For a mix of education and entertainment this kind of thing can’t be beat. It’s a timeless trip to “Egypt, ancient land of awe and wonder, whose people whisper from the desert sands”.