Mystery Solved

Pasquale Scaturro says this is the most dangerous thing he's ever done--and the closest he's come to dying. For most people, that could describe an unsettling car accident, seeing a bear on a camping trip, a grease fire at home or simply getting tangled in the entertainment center's power cords. But Scaturro has climbed Mount Everest several times, including in 2001 when he led the expedition of blind mountaineer Erik Weihenmayer, and navigated the African rivers of the White Nile, the Zambezi and the Omo, plus rivers on other continents. Now--after becoming the first person to lead a complete descent of the Nile from source to sea, Ethiopia to Egypt, 114 days across 3,260 miles--what's left for him to do? What can you do to one-up conquering two of the world's last mysteries and natural dangers? Nothing, really. So Scaturro is going to travel every country in Africa, keeping detailed journals (as usual) and climbing each country's tallest points to keep from "looking like a tourist," he says. Before that, Scaturro has another scary task: facing audiences at signings of his book Mystery of the Nile (written with Richard Bangs) and screenings of its companion IMAX film, also called Mystery of the Nile, which runs through September 1 at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History.

In addition to surviving crocodile attacks, gunfire from bandits, 100-plus-degree temperatures, class six whitewater rapids, raft-capsizing hippopotamuses, violent storms, arrests by military and government officials and a bout of malaria that put Scaturro in the hospital, the expedition crew also had hundreds of pounds of IMAX equipment to deal with to help produce this film for Orbita Max and MacGillivray Freeman Films (which did Everest, Speed, Journey Into Amazing Caves and more). Except for Scaturro and adventure filmmaker and kayaker Gordon Brown, many in the expedition crew (mainly scientists, historians and film crew members) were not experienced in rafting, especially in such dangerous conditions, and one of the film's most sympathetic moments was watching a scientist from Cairo overcome his fears and rappel down a rocky cliff as the expedition traversed a waterfall, using ropes to get the people, supplies and rafts down the steep drop.

Mystery of the Nile is one of the most personal IMAX films because audiences get to know the crew members--with Brown (who clowns around in his kayak, fights off crocs and gets shot at while upstream from the crew, who had to listen to the gunfire from afar and wait to find out if their companion survived) and Scaturro (who must keep everyone safe, lead the expedition and keep records) always at the center of the action. But the film is also action-packed. The large-format IMAX cameras put viewers at the front of the 16-foot rafts as they speed and bump through rapids and over small waterfalls and get bumped by Nile crocs and deadly hippos. It also takes them flying through canyons, over the desert and through the grasslands of Africa to watch the landscapes change as the Nile stays constant, though changing itself from narrow to miles wide, calm to dangerous.

Mystery of the Nile also gives a primer on history and culture, showing how the river supported civilizations on its banks, including its most famous, the Ancient Egyptians with their pyramids and temples just off shore. The crew also visits a lesser known set of pyramids built by the Nubians and a church in Ethiopia carved down into solid rock with a cross-shaped top on the land's surface, barely hinting at what's below. The latter is the setting for one of the film's best moments with priests and followers drumming and dancing outside the church, percussion and foot beats pounding in the enclosed space. But the facts don't kill the entertainment. The kids won't get restless between wide-eyed adventure moments, plus there are hippos and camels--which sent the kids behind us into fits of giggles. It's no mystery that Mystery of the Nile will suit all ages and excite both history buffs and armchair adventurers.

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Shannon Sutlief