Of the many news stories to emerge from Egypt’s recent political upheaval, the ransacking and looting of a Cairo museum (and others) housing numerous ancient artefacts and antiquities was amongst the most disconcerting. That a group of volunteers responded by surrounding the museum in a human chain to prevent further damage is a testament to the high esteem in which Egypt’s historical past is held by the majority. The re-issue of the IMAX release Egypt 3D: Secrets of the Mummies (aka Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs) is a timely reminder of the contemporary value (and relevance) of Ancient Egyptian history.
Focussing on the mysteries of mummification – a process of embalming and preserving the dead – that still elude modern science, Secrets of the Mummies charts the history of the deceased Pharaohs and the monuments built in their honour. In particular, the film outlines the archaeological significance of Ramses the Great, whose obsession with memorialisation resulted in numerous temples and tombs consecrated in his image along a vast stretch of the River Nile. As the documentary reiterates, both the ceremonial preservation of the deceased body and the erection of grand monuments were part of the same principle: a desire for immortality.
But Secrets of the Mummies also provides a contemporary context for this historical exploration, particularly in the area of DNA analysis. Following the work of forensic scientist Dr. Angelique Corthals and her attempts to extract genetic material from exhumed mummies, the film poses questions about the potential ramifications of her research in the area of modern-day disease prevention.
Narrated by Christopher Lee – a novel touch given his appearance in films such as The Mummy (1959) and Russell Mulcahy’s Tale of the Mummy (1998) – Secrets of the Mummies is likely to appeal to a younger generation or might be best viewed in the context of a broader educational experience. The central drawback of the film in isolation is that at a running time of around forty minutes there’s too many narrative threads and not enough exploration. None of the history, science, or the discussion of the archaeological discoveries is recounted with any sufficient depth. In the end, Egypt 3D: Secrets of the Egyptian Mummies is content to let such secrets remain buried, at least for the time being.
Egypt 3D: Secrets of the Mummies is screening now at IMAX cinemas in Melbourne and Sydney. Check your local IMAX website for details.