For something that is nothing more than a big, fat fib, the curse on King Tut's tomb has remarkable staying power. Death shall come to those who dare disturb this sanctuary. There are countless movies, stories, and songs written about it. It's probably the best-known part of Egyptology, and it's not even real. No hieroglyphs in the burial chamber speak of it; no one has really died because of it. But still it makes for better entertainment than the real story. The boy king restored Egypt's cultural stability after his father, Amenhotep IV or Akenaten, had thrown the country into ruin by worshipping only Ra, the sun god, and moving the capital from Thebes to Amarna. See, the curse thing is much simpler.
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National Geographic even capitalized on Tut's curse for Mysteries of Egypt, its IMAX film about the ancient civilization's wonders. The story begins with a girl (played by Kate Maberley, The Secret Garden) asking her Egyptian grandfather (Omar Sharif, a native Egyptian, who also narrates the film) about the alleged curse. He tells her about the real wonders of his homeland, winning her over with facts instead of fiction, which brings the film to a corny and disappointing conclusion where she and granddad decide that curses go against the very thing Egyptians loved--life.
The visiting granddaughter and wise old grandfather story line is just a launching (and, 40 minutes later, docking) point for the real Mysteries of Egypt. While other IMAX films seem to be made just because they have this expensive camera and budget that need to be used somehow, Egypt is perfect for the large-format film. Books and programs about Egypt recycle photographs again and again, or seem to. There are only a few angles photographers can use to capture the Sphinx, pyramids at Giza, and towering obelisks with regular film. Instead, director Bruce Neibaur and cinematographer Reed Smoot attached IMAX cameras to hot-air balloons to survey the monuments at Giza. The camera looks at the Great Pyramids from the point down to the desert floor and shows the smaller details of the monolithic Ramses II statues at Abu Simbel, where Ramses' nose is about the size of an average human. It also flies along the water as it follows the Nile from its sources in Uganda and Ethiopia to Egypt, where it cuts a green path through the sand. Then it ventures into the desert, zooming across the sands before dipping into the canyon known as the Valley of the Kings, where pharaohs and their riches were buried after time proved that pyramids were just, as Sharif says in the film, enormous billboards to show thieves where the gold was hidden unguarded.
Much of Mysteries of Egypt was filmed in the valley because, besides the family interaction and stunning cinematography, the story involves the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb. Through black-and-white re-enactments, Howard Carter and his benefactor Lord Carnarvon search the valley for Tut's missing tomb, which is found when the expedition's water boy uncovers the engraved stone top of the chamber's entrance. Tut's grave is important not because of the curse, but because it was the first tomb to be found undisturbed since the day Tut's priests sealed his mummy and riches into the chamber and covered the doorway with sand to protect it from robbers. Sharif whizzes through some Egyptology basics during Tut's segment, explaining mummification, showing a funeral procession, and skimming through the gods and hieroglyphs painted on tomb and temple walls.
No new discoveries are revealed in Mysteries of Egypt. In fact, the film was made in 1998 and played at the Science Place in Fair Park until Fantasia 2000 opened in December, and it doesn't mention the modern belief that Tut was murdered by one of his officials. The thing that separates this film is how it presents the material. It's one thing to hear someone explain that peasants and farmers pulled the large stones up muddy slopes to make the pyramids. Seeing it re-enacted is another. It's as exciting as all those stories about Tut's curse. Well, almost as exciting.
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