Mysteries of Egypt (1998)
Articles and Reviews

Scores from Reviews Nationwide Given to Bruce Neibaur's
"Mysteries of Egypt"

Numerical average of graded scores: 71 (out of 100)
  Average score is 2.8 stars out of 4, or a "B" freshness score: 50%
  4 reviews counted: 2 positive; 2 negative

[In the table below, the column labeled "RT.c" shows a plus or minus sign, indicating whether the website rated the review mainly positive (+) or negative (-). Reviews with nothing in the "RT.c" column (that is, they have no plus or minus by them), were not catalogued by the website, and are not included in the score.]

SourceReview AuthorRT.cGradeGrade
as #
Big Movie Zone Herb Lash +
Calgary Sun / Jam! Movies Louis B. Hobson 4 (out of 4) 100
E! Online B+ 84
Box Office Magazine Francesca Dinglasan 3 stars (out of 4) 75
Hollywood Report Card Ross Anthony - B- 67
New York Times A.O. Scott + 3.5 stars (out of 5) 67
Gerry Shamray Sun Newspapers of Cleveland 3 (out of 5) 56
New York Post Lou Lumenick - 2 stars (out of 4) 50

Pharaoh to Midland
Mysteries of Egypt

By: Ross Anthony
Date: 2000
Source: Ross Anthony's Hollywood Report Card

Grade: B-

"Excellent, especially since I've been to Egypt," an adult viewer commented. I also asked an 11-year-old girl her thoughts. "Cool!" she said, "we're studying Egypt in school."

The film begins with the death of a young boy ... King Tut. It tells the tale of many a buried pharaoh while working its way up the pyramids (so to speak) until the discovery of Tut's tomb in 1922. An older gent recounts the story of these elite kings to his granddaughter as they sit in an Egyptian restaurant. His narration is fine, however, the acting prowess of the two is rather dry and arid; fortunately, returns to the restaurant are equally few and brief.

While making some efforts toward "kiddization" for the younger viewer, this film is primarily a documentary of traditional making. As a documentary it is interesting and educational ... but as an IMAX presentation, it's rather lacking.

I enjoyed the aerial passage through the Nile and especially the superimposition of a map of Africa on the river's surface during the maneuver. Very nice. Waterfalls, cliff-hanging trees, a rainbow reflected off the lens. Also stimulating the senses ... awesomely deep resonances of a heavy stone as it slides over the tomb of a mummy. An aerial shot or two of the pyramids stands out as well.

But for the most part ... I didn't feel in Egypt. I felt in a documentary. Artifacts, jewelry, statues, obelisks, all displayed as if the IMAX camera were a 35mm SLR still camera. So much more could have been done to bring me there. The most blaring omission - Cairo. Some years ago, I spent a week in Egypt ... so alluring was this city that I allotted six of those seven days in Cairo. But "Mysteries of Egypt" completely neglects this vibrant colorful town, even though three pyramids and the Sphinx lay just minutes by bus from the city center. You can barely see it in the background of a few shots in the film, I'm sure that at least a low copter sequence from above Cairo out to the desert would have greatly widened the viewer's perspective. This fantastic contrast of civilizations screams for the screen. Better yet, put the camera in a Cairo cab, even at real time speed, that'd make for an awesome rush to the pyramids. And if time were a problem, the whole sequence could be sped up as not to lose focus on the "mysteries" aspect.

Additionally, not until five minutes to the conclusion did the production offer us reference objects to the size of the pyramids. Shot respectably, we still don't get a feeling for their immensity, unless a passerby passes by (or a car or a camel). This would also be a grand opportunity to show a bit of current culture ... a couple of kids kicking a soccer ball alongside, etc.

Several reenactments are portrayed. In the most effective one, workers lug the huge bricks up a mud ramp. This very nicely communicates the theory. Perfectly visual, little else need be said. However, a lone water boy is the only worker who appears to be scuffed by the dirt or sand and exhausted from his labors - he alone is believable.

Lastly, in one particular scene Grandpa mentions, "It takes knowledge of engineering, organization, mathematics and geometry to create such structures." While I'm glad mention is made, show me! This is an IMAX presentation, back up those words with images. Show me how the math I learned in high school was used (this could be done quickly - in less than 10 seconds). A geometry teacher scratches chalk to a schoolroom blackboard, dissolve to an ancient Egyptian digging shapes into the sand, dissolve to the pyramid over the sketches. And I want the same eye-candy for engineering and organization etc. The mention of astronomy begged for a shot of the stars ... but none was given.

One last missing piece, how did Carter know where to look for Tut? I think kids would really "dig" the "hide and seek" sport of this hunt.

Overall, a decent 1970's style documentary, but this archeological film barely scratches the surface of the sweeping IMAX potential.

By: Herb Lash
Date: January 2001
Source: Big Movie Zone

Today, our passing leaders worry over their personal legacies - over how history will judge their deeds, their intentions, their failures and their triumphs. Biographies, TV interviews, spin-doctors, presidential libraries and speaking engagements are all employed to create a specific impression intended to stand the test of time. None of this will work. It is clear from watching the Mysteries of Egypt that there is only one way to keep humanity forever enthralled by your little life - you must build Giant Pyramids in the desert.

Mysteries of Egypt proves once again that the next best thing to experiencing the real thing is an Imax film. Any tourist can tell you that the Giza Pyramids are difficult to film badly - but Imax size and scope conveys a sense of place and mystery that is palpable. Familiar images of ancient Egypt are made fresh as the camera approaches almost timidly, with respect -majestic and quieting moments of inspiration follow. The film fascinates as an introduction to Egypt and it will surprise those who think they have already seen the many faces of the Land of the Pharaohs.

Omar Sharif brings his considerable presence to the film as an avuncular guide to the sites, legends and mysteries of Egypt - he shares a coffee and his thoughts with an inquisitive young girl. The scenes featuring Sharif are part of a straightforward introductory narrative - but they merit mention because they surmount the IMAX-specific problem of voice-mouth synchronization. Sharif's careful and natural annunciation give proof that it is possible to have Imax actors deliver extended lines of dialogue - without having to resort to Kung Fu style voice-over dubbing.

The film weaves a good tale out of archeologist Howard Carter's discovery of King Tut's tomb and of the supposed curses that haunted his discovery. The enigmatic Sphinx gets its due, the Pyramids at Giza are wondered over and a few lesser known monuments, obelisks and ruins are lingered upon. But where the film truly surprises is along the river Nile. The narrow, tamed and lazy Nile is shown to have a wild side. Helicopter shots near the Lake Victoria source of the Nile show a thundering, wild and unrestrained river - one that carves a path through lush vegetation and steep cliffs. The trip down the Nile affords the filmmakers the opportunity to offer up an Egypt that looks nothing like the postcard images the world has grown accustomed to.

Mysteries of Egypt strikes an engaging balance between travelogue, documentary and storytelling.

Snapshots From a Substitute Vacation

By: A.O. Scott
Date: 26 October 2001
Source: New York Times

[3.5 out of 5]

"Mysteries of Egypt," a new Imax film produced in cooperation with National Geographic, is a convenient substitute for a trip to the country itself and a nice supplement to a visit to the mummy collection in your local museum. The five-story screen and the swooping aerial camera work convey the grandeur and majesty of the pyramids of Giza and the gigantic statues at Abu Simbel. And if the experience still does not quite match standing at the foot of the monuments themselves, it is also free of desert heat, souvenir hawkers and tour-bus exhaust. The sphinx and the pyramids seem to exist in a vast and timeless desert. The nearby Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise is nowhere to be seen.

After a thrilling bird's-eye trip up the Nile, we settle into a Cairo cafe to learn about the most famous dead Egyptian -- the boy king Tutankhamen ---- from one of his most famous living countrymen, Omar Sharif. Mr. Sharif, whose suave and civilized voice adds greatly to the film's charm, plays a Cairene instructing his American granddaughter (Kate Maberly) about the marvels of the ancient world and about Howard Carter's discovery in 1922 of the tombful of those marvels that had been sealed away for millenniums.

Audiences are likely to be captivated by the lavish photography. How much they are engrossed by the content will likely depend on how much they already know. Like dinosaurs, which are similarly well- served by the big Imax screen, ancient Egypt is a subject of endless fascination for school-age children. This means that many of them will arrive at "Mysteries of Egypt," which opens today at the Imax Theater at Lincoln Square (1998 Broadway, at 68th Street), with a certain dogmatic expertise, and may find the information it contains elementary and patronizingly presented.

On the other hand this concise, sweeping survey of 4,000 years of civilization may attract a new generation of budding Egyptologists, much in the way that the "Treasures of Tutankhamen" exhibition did a generation ago. And young viewers seduced by the trashy flash of "The Mummy" and "The Mummy Returns" will be able to glimpse a vanished reality richer, stranger and bigger than all of the special effects in Hollywood.

By: Lou Lumenick
Date: 26 October 2001
Source: New York Post

** [2 stars out of 4]

"MYSTERIES of Egypt" is the sort of routine documentary you can catch every day on cable TV, except this one is sponsored by National Geographic and is being presented in 2-D IMAX.

The pyramids and the Nile look better than ever on the giant screen, but too much time is wasted on a hokey black-and-white re-creation of the discovery of King Tut's tomb in 1922 and the supposed "curse" it triggered.

A very elegant and fit-looking Omar Sharif appears as the on-screen narrator and Kate Maberly ("The Secret Garden") plays his granddaughter in a framing story.

Dive 'Deep' into the sea with IMAX at the Esquire

By: Joe Baltake
Date: 24 September 1999
Source: Sacramento Bee

The Esquire Theater's second IMAX duo -- following the successful three-month run of "Everest" and the 3-D "T-Rex: Back to the Cretaceous" -- continues with the usual educational film-travelog format, but again, not in the conventional sense. There's much more heart in the approach here.

Both "Into the Deep" and "Mysteries of Egypt," the two new titles, turn learning into grand adventures. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, as they say, then the eight-story IMAX screen must be worth a million.

To call these films transporting is an understatement.

"Into the Deep" (not to be confused with the current "In Too Deep"), shot in 3-D by Howard Hall, takes us on a 35-minute trip below the waters and among the miles of kelp forest off Baja California, emersing us in a world of fish and crustaceans that's so intimate we immediately feel right a home.

We get a close-up view of hundreds of lovely opalescent squid that seem to swim around us, giving us the urge to reach out and touch them. Or, perhaps, swim along with them.

Oddly enough, the 3-D device does something fascinating to the large IMAX screen: Within minutes, our eyes adjust and the experience seems smaller. We become less aware of the vastness of the waters and more sensitive to the little colonies of fish, crabs and lobsters on the ocean's floor, each making up their own self-contained community.

It's a rare privilege, for example, to see a lobster literally shed its old shell, with a soft, new one underneath ready to harden from the watery atmosphere. Or to witness the solitary birth of a baby swell shark. Born alone, without the help of its mother, it struggles out of its flat shell.

Our guided tour includes a view of the territorial struggles between the competitive moray eel and the octopus, which doesn't stand a chance because its smell announces it presence. Also primed for battle are two "male sarcastic frigeheads" (yep, that's what they're called) that engage in a session of bluff and bluster.

Much more lethal is the pelagic jellyfish, whose sting paralyzes, and the tube anemone, whose tentacles are lethal to the smaller fish.

But some of the survivalist stuff is less aggressive, such as the amazing sight of a male kelp crab gently sheltering a smaller female crab that's carrying a brood of eggs.

"Into the Deep," which is actually one of the first IMAX films, made in 1991, is the best nature documentary I've seen since Claude Nuridsany and Marie Perennou's French-made "Microcosmos" (1996), which used high-powered lenses to trace the movements of bugs and insects too small for the human eye to observe. Like that film, "Into the Deep" is a visual treat, stunningly photographed and always entertaining.

Bruce Neibur's "Mysteries of Egypt," its co-feature, is much drier in comparison -- and in both senses of the word.

Made in conjunction with National Geographic, this film takes the form of a tour-lecture provided by Omar Sharif for the benefit of his on-screen granddaughter (played by the young British actress Kate Maberly, of Agnieszka Holland's 1993 version of "The Secret Garden").

As he shares with her the myths and magic of the chambers of the sacred tomb of King Tutankhamun, his words open up like a huge picture book, and we're invited to look over his shoulder as he escorts his granddaughter through magnificent Egypt, sharing intimate views of its treasures.

Flashbacks of the British archaeologists, dramatizing their discovery of King Tut's tomb, have been suitably shot in black-and-white.

Both of these worlds are humbling, but there's something intimidating about "Mysteries of Egypt" and the staggering 5,000 years of history that it represents. Unlike "Into the Deep," we're surrounded here by a universe that's water-free -- a dry, sandy place that comes in assorted shades of brown, beige and orange and that's dominated by those ancient high-rises, the pyramids.

As producer Lisa Truitt has commented about the enormous structures captured in Neibur's film, the pharaohs must have built the pyramids with the giant IMAX screen in mind.

Quick trip to ancient Egypt
Omar Sharif and IMAX get together for a magical mystery tour

By: Louis B. Hobson
Date: December 19, 1998
Source: Calgary Sun / Jam! Movies

Jam Rating: 4 [out of 4]

Watching the new IMAX National Geographic special Mysteries of Egypt is the next best thing to being there.

This is a must-see documentary highlighting some of the treasures of Egypt, including the pyramids of Giza, the Valley of the Kings, the Sphinx and the treasures of Tutankhamen.

It takes the giant IMAX screen to even approximate the grandeur of the pyramids as they stand in their sea of sand reaching for the heavens.

And grand is the only word to describe how director Bruce Neibaur guides his cameras across the sands and through the skies.

Omar Sharif acts as the narrator for this voyage by playing a stately grandfather who is trying to explain the ancient mysteries to his granddaughter (Kate Maberly of The Secret Garden).

The girl is fascinated by the famous curse of the mummy that she has heard whispered by her classmates.

Sharif promises he will tell her about the curse if she will listen to the whole story of ancient Egypt -- of which the curse is a very small part.

The journey takes the girl and the viewer along the mighty Nile River to hint at how and why Egypt became the most powerful and enlightened of the ancient civilizations.

This is a film that is as exciting for the mind as it is the eyes because it explores and reveals so much.

Sharif's story veers to the discovery of King Tut's tomb and shows some of the treasures that were hidden for so many centuries.

The re-creations of the building of the pyramids and the death, mummification and burial of Tutankhaman are realistic, truly enhancing this little history lesson.

The Mysteries of Egypt knows and keeps to its central purpose of looking at the treasures that remain from the glory days of ancient Egypt.

There is no attempt to weave in a travelogue of modern-day Egypt. That's another story for another day.

By: Louise Keller, Andrew L. Urban
Source: Urban Cinefile

Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

Omar Sharif plays the role of a grandfather who shows his visiting granddaughter (Kate Maberly) around, introducing her to the wonders and magic of the ancient Egyptian civilization. At first, she doesn't share her grandfather's enthusiasm, but she soon changes her mind. Like so many tourists who visit the pyramids, she is awestruck by the sheer magnitude of these architectural wonders. As she listens to her grandfather's stories, she is fascinated by the supposed curse of King Tutankhamun's burial chamber and begins to appreciate the incredible legacy of the land of the pharaohs. Produced by Ntional Geographic and Destination Cinema.

"Informative, spectacular, insightful and entertaining, Mysteries of Egypt is a bewitching experience on the giant screen, transporting us into an exotic land seeped in history, superstitions and unsurpassed natural beauty. We are privvy to a journey of discovery, with the debonair, urbane Omar Sharif as our guide. Legendary Sharif has a seductive and authoritative screen presence -- informed, intelligent with a voice as rich as liquid amber. Cleverly structured to incorporate a personal element in a loose story line, the journey begins at the source of the Nile, where the cascade of waterfalls explode: you can almost feel and taste the spray. Visually splendid, breathtaking cinematography captures the awesome pyramids, scarlet flaming sunsets and the ornate artworks of a civilisation long gone, the rich music score enriching the experience. The extraordinary discovery of the tomb of Tutankhamun forms a bridge in time -- you really feel as though you are there. The realisation that these extraordinary structures were built some 3 to 5,000 years ago using only the astrology, mathematics and engineering of the day, is mind blowing. Captivating and seductive, Mysteries of Egypt is an inspiring, breathtaking experience, a magical look at a fascinating culture rich in complexity."
Louise Keller

"The most striking aspect of this docu-drama is the format itself, the giant screen that is used to great effect as a travel guide not only through some of Egypt's diverse and magnificent geography today, but through the ancient mysteries of the pyramids. If you think you've seen it all before, you will have only yourself to blame for missing a special cinema experience that only the giant screen can deliver. For example, some of aerial shots from low flying aircraft above the Nile come as close to virtual flying as you can get in a cinema auditorium. As for the Egyptologists among us, this film brings within your grasp, almost, the fabulous death mask of the young king whose burial chamber was the last to be discovered -- and the most awe-inspiring. In its relatively short running time, this dramatised documentary opens our eyes to a civilisation we have known about, with a fresh vigour."
Andrew L. Urban

By: Francesca Dinglasan
Source: Box Office Magazine

*** [3 out of 4 stars]

Set against the wondrous backdrop of the sweeping Nile and the majestic Giza pyramids, "Mysteries of Egypt" takes the viewer on an engaging journey through the Land of the Pharaohs. Meant to be educational as well as inspirational, the large-format film conveys pertinent information in the form of a running conversation between a wise old grandfather (Omar Sharif), who stresses the importance of historic perspective as well as respect toward the ancients, and his inquisitive granddaughter (Kate Maberly), who is eager to hear about the legendary Mummy's Curse and the more titillating tales associated with the region.

Seeking to satisfy both this thirst for knowledge and the morbid curiosity about ancient Egyptians, the film is interspersed with reenactments of events such as the mummification of royal family members and the plundering of rich tombs by intrepid grave robbers, with Sharif's voice-overs serving to explain the onscreen depictions of the archaic traditions and their historical significance.

Despite the potentiality for contrived dialogue or distraction caused by the grandfather-granddaughter relationship, "Mysteries of Egypt" is quite successful at communicating basic information about the country's history as well as avoiding the pitfalls associated with a documentary featuring real events and places, but fictional characters.

The only flaw of any note is the film's inability to delve deeper into topics it introduces, including the short life of King Tut and the mysterious construction methods behind the pyramids, igniting viewer curiosity only to let it down much too quickly. However, having to cover an entire civilization in just 40 minutes is no small task, and director Bruce Neibaur makes the most of the time he is allotted by using the giant screen to depict Egypt's breathtaking landscape and timeless monuments on a scale in which they deserve to be seen.

Date: 1/28/00
Source: E! Online

Our Grade: B+
User Grade: B

The nice thing about world-traveling the IMAX way is (a) it's cheap, (b) you get popcorn and (c) you don't get the turistas. In Mysteries of Egypt you may have to endure a somewhat hokey storyline with Omar Sharif relating the story of King Tut's curse to a young companion (with B&W reenactments). But as ever, the breathtaking, seven-story-high IMAX images--taking you from the pyramids to the majestic temples of Luxor to the inside of 5,000-year-old pharoahs' tombs--more than make up for it. Now, this is the way to learn history and geography.

By: Peter Henne [Peter Henné]
Source: Film Journal International

The large-format industry has been mulling over incorporating narrative into its films for some time. A successful, story-driven feature still has not arrived. Mysteries of Egypt, directed by Bruce Neibaur, does not attempt to be that total innovation, but rather an intermediary step between the form's traditional documentary genre and character-based drama. Though a little creaky in parts, the film wins us over with its impressive production values, fair-minded presentation and formal ambition. Instead of attempting to build one story, it actually uses two, and interweaves them. It also employs color, full-frame images for some scenes, and matted, black-and-white ones for others. Though most audiences will probably come away remembering an entertaining excursion into ancient Egypt, and witnessing a recreation of Howard Carter's excitement at discovering the tomb of King Tutankhamen, Mysteries of Egypt also offers one of the more sophisticated structures that the large-format field has produced. The filmmakers rely on an outer and an inner story. In the outer story, set in the present at a cozy restaurant in an Egyptian city, an elderly gentleman (Omar Sharif) explains the history of the land's ancient times and marvels to an initially incredulous young girl (Kate Maberly). He describes pyramid building, water transport and, finally, Carter's historic uncovering in 1922 of Tutankhamen's burial chamber, after years of personal persistence. Though the outer story clearly means to convey a natural ease in communication between these two, the exchanges between the old man and the young girl never quite impart a real pleasure in teaching from him, or a spark of curiosity in her. Too didactically, she asks questions, and he spouts answers-which she either readily accepts, or queries in a manner that simply sets the stage for the old man's next lesson for her. Their function in the film is to make a preamble for various reenactments and footage of historic sites that follow, but the dialogue nevertheless could have been made more convincingly like normal, idle chat between two people. The inner story depicts the quest of Carter (Timothy Davies) to discover the burial site of Tutankhamen. We see his party trek through the Egyptian desert, finally arriving at a remote, inhospitable valley. One of his crew uncovers fragments that could belong to a tomb entrance. Digging further, Carter and his men reach an underground enclosure. Breaking through a wall inside, Carter spies the chamber that houses the ornate possesions with which the king was laid to rest. The archaeologist later called that moment the greatest of his life, and the movie's interpretation of it is spellbinding, lending subjective shots that let us participate in Carter's ecstasy and triumph. The scenes of Carter have a stronger resemblance to a drama than the outer story, and as they ostensibly spring from the present-day imagination of the old man, they are in black-and-white. Intriguingly, they are matted in a Cinemascope-like proportion, which helps us to concentrate on the images not as self-sufficient pieces, but as 'links' we expect to move forward to make a story. Since we have to sweep over the picture with our eyes in one direction or another to begin to make sense of it, the rectangular form of the picture prompts us to inquire if there might be other progressions in the film to understand, such as a narrative one. Making a survey, which a wide image demands, gets us on the track of putting steps together to complete comprehension. Mysteries of Egypt could have built up the characters of the outer story; it also could have allowed Carter to actually talk, instead of putting the old man's voice-over in place of speaking parts for him. Possibly, the filmmakers chose not to have Carter speak because his discovery occurred during the silent-film era. None of these shortcomings seriously detract from a gorgeous and well-documented film; they do, however, show large-format creeping toward obtaining the power to narrate. Though the storytelling elements of Mysteries of Egypt sputter, experimenting with them at all is a valuable gain for Neibaur and the whole industry. Hopefully, future films will build from this one.

Mystery is missing in 'Egypt'

By: Gerry Shamray
Date: 1999
Source: Sun Newspapers of Cleveland

$$$ [3 out of 5]

Far from fascinating, "Mysteries of Egypt" falls short on its promising premise.

As with most IMAX films, "Mysteries" feels like a stuffy educational film from high school. As an IMAX presentation -- i.e. the big screen gimmick -- the film also surprisingly falters.

It would seem a sure bet that Egypt would look quite stunning in this process. While there are a few scenes which take advantage of the massive screen, there are even more that do not.

The pyramids of Giza look impressive blown up to life-size impact. There is a spectacular aerial shot of a few waterfalls that will leave you clutching your chair.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers go artsy and waste too much time "re-creating" the discovery of King Tutankhamen's hidden tomb in smaller (!), black-and-white footage. What a waste of time and screen.

Too many shots of tomb robbers stealing loot, Too many scenes of Omar Sharif endlessly talking to his granddaughter about an ancient mummy's curse. Forget the tales, Doc, just show those gorgeous landscapes.

Even when finally treated to scenes of Egyptian treasure, those "creative" filmmakers shoot everything with an irritating, fading spotlight. Turn a few lights on, guys, and let us see the stuff.

There are a few unintentional guffaws. Best, a few floating feathers left after a bird falls prey to a cobra as part of some mummy's curse.

Happily, "Mysteries of Egypt" isn't cursed, just slow. When the focus is on Egypt and its breathtaking beauty, things are fine. The mystery is why the filmmakers didn't recognize this.

Return to homepage