It's probably not fair to critique an IMAX film the same way you'd critique the week's new releases. After all, IMAX is pure formula: jaw-dropping cinematography + family friendly/mildly educational subject x 45 minutes or so, all raised to the power of CV (celebrity voice) = new IMAX release. Still, the large movie format has yielded some surprisingly good films over the years, and I can't help but like their hypnotic effect.
But even among IMAX films, some are better than others. A thumbs-up rating for Mystery of the Nile comes with a strong caveat: The cinematography is gorgeous, but this isn't one of IMAX's better efforts. Part of it could be that there's too much here for one 44-minute ride. One movie alone could have been made about the river adventure: Pasquale Scaturro and Gordon Brown are to be commended for successfully completing a previously impossible feat -- running the entire Nile River from source to sea. The cinematographers effectively convey the challenges Scaturro and Brown faced, including unfamiliar river conditions, civil strife on land and journeying with a green crew comprised mostly of academics and journalists.
Besides, this is the Nile, with its rich cultural, historical and archaeological heritage -- plenty of material for another film altogether. The filmmakers spend a few moments on the Sphinx, the pyramids and the tomb of Ramses the Great (which was moved piece by piece in the 1960s to save it from being flooded after the construction of the Answar Dam).
The pace of the film is such that all of this is crowded into one very short piece. The elements are all compelling in their own right, but sketchy editing leaves some interesting stories unfinished (the account of a crocodile attack, for instance) and others strangely lacking a sense of urgency. The cinematography, however, is some of the best IMAX has to offer, and Mystery of the Nile, while ultimately not very mysterious, has something - from adventure to history -- to offer almost everyone.
Publication date: 03/10/05