Image Entertainment // 2005 // 47 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 29th, 2008
A thrilling trip down the greatest river in the world!
A typically engaging and enjoyable IMAX documentary, Mystery of the Nile documents an ambitious journey down over 3000 miles of the Blue Nile River. The Blue Nile is, of course, the world's most magnificent river, and the journey is not an easy one. It takes 114 days, and many perils are encountered along the way. These adventures are chronicled in an episodic manner of the course of 47 rather exciting minutes of edutainment.The leader of the expedition is Pasquale Scaturro, a level-headed and intelligent geologist who also provides the majority of the narration for this film. He is joined by an adventurous and somewhat aggressive adventurer named Gordon Brown (no, not that Gordon Brown), who is determined to travel every single inch of the river...even the waterfalls. Also along for the ride are an Egyptologist and a Spanish journalist on a writing assignment, in addition to Ethiopian guides and cooks. There are a few intense moments (offscreen) between some members of the group (particularly Scaturro and Brown), but everyone generally works well together and the mission is a grand success.
There are a series of very compelling interludes offered up here. We see our heroes braving raging rapids; trying to avoid rocks and alligators when their raft is overturned. There are quick side trips to check out some of the local life and important archaeological landmarks such as pyramids and temples. We are given a brief overview of various people groups living along the river, and get a general feel for how the Nile affects the local culture and agriculture in various areas. One of the most fascinating scenes is only described, as those heavy IMAX cameras were not able to capture it. Brown tells a very compelling story about battling some alligators, and hearing about it is perhaps even more interesting than actually seeing it.
Though the documentary is called Mystery of the Nile, the river does not seem exceptionally mysterious. There are no pretentious attempts to build up the ancient power of this mighty body of water, and as such the documentary feels pleasantly conversational. The primary individuals are all quite compelling figures, but they are obviously dwarfed by the sheer beauty and splendor of all the locations they visit. I was particularly wowed by the visit to the Valley of the Queens, and by an early ceremony conducted by some Ethiopian natives. Almost all of the IMAX documentaries are fun to look at, but this one has the added bonus of working reasonably well as a story, too.
The hi-def transfer is excellent, though I did note a few small flaws. A couple of scenes feature minor flecks here and there, and there's a minor level of grain in some scenes. Speaking of which: is it fair to say that any shot of the desert is grainy? Har-har. Audio is terrific, though we're given a pretty minimal amount of captured sound design. I suppose the sheer noise level of the IMAX cameras is responsible for this. Aside from the narration that appears now and then, the sound on the film is more or less defined by the music. While the score sticks to the Hollywood-approved method of scoring an African film (sweeping strings accompanied by an African choir), it's really a lovely and well-written effort that I enjoyed. In terms of supplements, the primary bonus here is 40-minute making-of featurette, which is really more of a companion piece to the film. It's an engaging look at crafting a unique documentary (though I always do find documentaries about documentaries a little odd). Everything else here is pretty insubstantial: a quiz, some fun facts about the Nile, trailers, etc.
While the experience of seeing an IMAX film in an IMAX theatre is one of the few things that cannot be matched by a hi-def home viewing experience, this is still a very engaging film that looks quite good on Blu-ray. Recommended for the whole family, and certainly not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 47 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Fun Facts
* Additional Info
* Making-of Documentary