*Note: Mystery of the Nile was originally created for exhibition in IMAX theaters
The Show - out of
The large format IMAX films, seen in IMAX theatres are incredible experiences. Short films that educate, entertain and enthrall are the mainstay of these oversized screens and, while IMAX has grown itself over the years, profiling big blockbuster films, like The Dark Knight, its true source of constant marvel is short film documentaries. Filmmaking Company MacGillivray-Freeman has been creating documentary style films that capture imagination with a grand visual boldness and lushly filmed grandeur for decades. The films created have explored and educated on the magnificence of the planet, from the depths of the sea, to the heights of flight. The library includes the first film of theirs, To Fly!, through incredible and at times Oscar nominated and winning shorts such as The Living Sea, Dolphins and Everest. The incredible talents of the MacGillivray-Freeman company, independently run out of Laguna Beach, CA, have even been used in major motion pictures, notably Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining for the sweeping aerial shots.
The Mystery of the Nile is an expedition film. It follows a rag-tag team of experienced and inexperienced people, including a Spanish journalist, an archeologist, a photographer a geologist – all under the leadership of a safety archeologist and the gruff expedition leader, Pasquale Scaturro. This team, with a couple of rafts, supplies and a few bulky IMAX cameras, set off on an improbable journey to traverse all three-thousand miles of the Nile, from “source to sea”, through countries in peace and conflict, with treacherous rapids, trigger happy bandits and ferocious threats lurking on the river banks and just beneath the surface ready to snap up anyone not paying attention. This four month mission meets deadly challenges but affords the travelers the opportunity to see and experience historical marvels, native cultures and the threads of Christianity that have survived along the Nile almost against odds. The journey begins on the Blue Nile and takes them from Ethiopia to the Mediterranean Sea. More than most short films of this nature, Mysteries of the Nile is a collection of vignettes sewn into a larger narrative – all told with the same high quality cinematography one can expect from an IMAX film.
There is a good story to follow in this film, and the difficulty of undertaking the first ever successful navigation of the 3200 miles river is conveyed competently and the visuals are expectedly strong, but aren’t at the exceptional level of other productions. Some footage is wonderful, including the aerial footage and that of little seen 12th century churches carved into the solid rock of the earth and the black pyramids of Meroe. And riding “shotgun” on the 16ft rafts delivers places the viewer right in the center of the action, something that on the large format IMAX screens would have been tantamount to a theme park ride, but perhaps this film in particular has difficulty with the transition into the home theater arena. Mystery of the Nile is educational, feeding the mind and the sense of wonder that is excited by splendid footage of placed and people rarely seen, here with the artistic eye that is the staple of MacGillavry-Freeman films. There is, however, a feeling that the awe-inspiring edge has softened here.
That said, there is footage that is lush and fascinating – capturing the roaring rivers and sweeping sand dunes of some of the African continents most beautiful and historically rich nations. The footage of the Tissisat Falls and how the characters brave the drop, roping down the face of it, with one character, lacking grace but being brave through his fear is one of the highlights.
The Nile is a magnificent spectacle, needling its way across some extremely harsh areas of Africa bringing life and prosperity to those who have learned to tap into and respect it. Mystery of the Nile weaves interesting elements of the Nile's history and impact into the tapestry of its story, exploring its assisting effect of aiding the survival of Christianity, farmlands and indigenous ways of life. And it is in these moments that this IMAX film most impresses. But where these films graciously indulge in a visual flair that sets them apart from other short films and documentary style pieces, this film takes a step aside to tell its story a little more straightforward; a little more traditionally and that helps in one way, but detracts a little from what these large format films do best.
Mystery of the Nile is presented for the first time on Blu-Ray with a 1080p High Definition transfer and shown here with a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Natural film grain is present and provides a true film like look to this release. The colors are particularly rich, especially the deep sunset and the golden sands. The hi-def image is very good, with plenty of detail and is distortion free. Impressive.
The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is also impressive. The score is percussive heavy and evokes the lands that provide the great footage – a more upbeat and energetic musical accompaniment that generates a swifter sense of pace and adventure. The surrounds are effectively used, containing an enveloping ambience of rushing water and the whispering echoes of ancient buildings. The clarity in the surrounds is superb but the narration in the center channel is a little hollow sounding, lacking the warmth that you will find in productions like the BBC’s triumphant Planet Earth (which comes extremely highlight recommended, by the way).
Making Of – (43:22) – Writer, Director, Producer Jordi Llompart and others help shed light on the difficulties of the production and the great set of characters that helped tell the story in this film. Seeing how much effort it took to lug 7 tons of filming equipment and setting up in varied locations gives an even greater appreciation of the film itself. The conversations with those who made the treacherous trip along the Nile help give a sense of the harsh environment and deadly hurdles they had to face.
Film Trivia Quiz – Though the font is really too small (even on a 65 inch screen), the quiz asks questions about things the film covered and is smoothly handled.
Nile Knowledge – A fact sheet with information about the Nile.
Companion Book – A text page about the book of this journey.
Learn More – A list of sites to visit and learn more about the Nile and Africa and its people.
About the Producers – Another fact sheet with biographical information.
Trailers – Trailers for 10 MacGillivray-Freeman films in High Definition with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound.
Dynamic Connection – Link to e-enabled features.
Mystery of the Nile is a fine production and filled with interesting moments and some great cinematography. It doesn’t inspire quite as much as other MacGillavry productions nor strike that awe-inspiring chord with footage that blows the mind, but it does impress at times and places you among the action with the IMAX camera mounted on the rear of one of the 16ft rafts.