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DVD Review: IMAX: Mummies – Secrets of the Pharaohs

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Mummies have long been the subject of eerie fascination. These leathery, preserved bodies have fueled the imagination of novelists, filmmakers, and research scientists alike. Originally filmed in large format for IMAX theaters, Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs, which is one part recreational docudrama and another part high-tech science, takes a new approach to a general, introductory level overview of Egyptian spiritual beliefs and mummification practices.

Created with the young or general interest viewer in mind, this 39-minute documentary covers territory familiar to most with a passing acquaintance with Egypt. The general techniques and reasons for mummification are touched upon without becoming overly technical. But the unique areas are found in the film delving into modern research revolving around the creation of ‘fresh’ mummies and the search for DNA in both these and ancient specimens in a search for genetically encoded malarial clues.

With three young children, we’re devotees of the docudrama approach wherein historical events are reenacted with narration describing the historical detail. With an approximately 50/50 split between scenes of reenactment and more typical technical documentary scenes, the most memorable for our family is the discovery of the tomb of Rameses III and 40 other royal mummies in the 1880s. The details are unforgettable when given life by the actors.

Be aware that scenes of actual, unwrapped mummies are included frequently throughout the documentary. This can prove to be either the most appealing or horrific aspect of this title depending upon the sensitivity levels of your children (or yourself!). I wasn’t sure how our children would react, but the lack of scary music or reference to manufactured "curse of the mummy" speculation helped them take everything in stride. The mummies are presented rather matter-of-factly with an appreciation for the discovery of potential knowledge hidden within their genetic structure and a general sense of wonder for the culture that produced them.

In addition to the somewhat brief feature, an additional 22-minute “making of” segment is included, with a strong emphasis on the challenges of filming for a large format. Educational add-ons such as an interactive multiple choice quiz, fast facts, and a “Meet the Mummies” section where educational details are provided for a number of famous mummies in an on-screen text format, add to the film’s educational appeal for budding Egyptologists. The documentary includes standard scene navigation from an external menu and from within the film, and offers three language tracks – English, French and Spanish – all recorded in Dolby Digital 5.1.

Most of my memories from childhood studies of Egypt revolve around factual tidbits about mummies. I believe that they are nearly universally fascinating, and therefore make a great entry point into learning more about Egyptian history. Mummies: Secrets of the Pharoahs will make an appealing addition to any elementary or junior high course of Egyptian study.

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