A&E Home Video presents
Egypt: Beyond the Pyramids (2001)
"Excavating bodies is a sort of scary thing to do, actually, because these are people, and we have to remember they are people."- Dr. Ann Roth
Stars: Peter Woodward
Other Stars: Dr. Donald Redford, Dr. Kent Weeks, Dr. Ann Roth
Director: David DeVries
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (archaeological evidence of violence, mummified corpses)
Run Time: 03h:03m:12s
Release Date: 2001-06-26
DVD ReviewTrue to recent form, The History Channel's Egypt: Beyond the Pyramids documentary miniseries finds its way to DVD (courtesy of A&E) within a month of its cable airing. Actor Peter Woodward hosts this four-episode exploration of current archaeological excavation and cultural history research in Egypt, whose ancient civilization has held pop culture in its thrall for well over a century.
Producer/writer/director David DeVries gained access to several sensitive sites for this documentary, providing a rare glimpse of science-in-progress where tourists dare not go. Camera angles and lighting are often constrained by close physical quarters, but the footage is solid and well-edited. Host Woodward occasionally goes overboard - too much is "exact" or "identical," his humor is sometimes obtuse, and he looks a little bit odd with his hat off. Still, he's game for anything and clearly fascinated by the subject.
Episode 1, Mansions of the Spirits, explores surviving temples including the Great Temple of Karnak, near Abydos, and the Deir El Bahari erected by Queen Hatshepsut, recently restored to its former glory by years of manual effort. Surviving obelisks, temples and halls provide some information about ancient Egyptian religion, while a hieroglyphic list of the ancient kings documents the history of the culture. The life of Queen Hatshepsut is discussed at some length; while there seems to have been no paternalistic opposition to her rule, her position of power required the same grammatically awkward hieroglyphic phrase applied to Cleopatra: "the queen himself."
The second episode, The Great Pharaoh and His Lost Children, explores the centuries-old mystery of the many sons of Rameses II, believed to be the Pharaoh in power at the time of the Hebrew Exodus under Moses. Rameses survived several of his sons, whose final resting place was unknown until archaeologist Kent Weeks began hunting for a forgotten mausoleum (discovered in 1825, then lost again) in 1987. The partially-excavated KV5 site in the Valley of the Kings serves as a background for Weeks' recollections of the thrilling discovery - the eleven chambers noted in 1825 have grown to 150, and the digging-out continues. This episode also visits the Ramesseum, Rameses' own burial site, where his remarkably well-preserved mummy has resided since 1212 B.C.
Episode 3, The Daily Life of Ancient Egyptians, discusses the commerce and culture of the common people of ancient Egypt. The Nile was critical to the founding of an agrarian economy, fed on staples of bread and beer, supporting trading and civilization that helped Egypt become the center of the ancient world. Egyptian sexual customs and mores (not so different from our own), makeup and housing are covered in satisfying detail. A ram-god temple at the center of an ancient town, surrounded by buried, apparently murdered bodies, adds creepy atmosphere to this otherwise visually dry episode.
Death and the Journey to Immortality concludes the four-episode series with extensive discussion of ancient Egyptian funerary customs, including the rite of mummification. The body was to be preserved for its journey into the Afterlife, and embalming technology evolved considerably over the millennia. Other curiosities include a recently-discovered fleet of wooden boats buried in the desert to escort their passengers into the next world. This episode is probably not appropriate for the little ones, as corpses and skeletal remains abound, but it's a fascinating look at the mummification process and the complex, highly spiritual social system it supported.
I never considered myself an Egyptophile, but my personal adventures in pop culture have included at least four different computer games and innumerable movies inspired by the culture of Ancient Egypt (including a treasured Super 8mm color/sound print of the Terrytoons Heckle & Jeckle cartoon, King Tut's Tomb... ah, the days before DVD!) Once I started watching, I was completely unable to put this 2-disc set down. Egypt: Beyond the Pyramids is educational, eye-opening and thoroughly entertaining.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: A
|Aspect Ratio||1.33:1 - Full Frame|
|Original Aspect Ratio||yes|
Image Transfer Review: Egypt: Beyond the Pyramids is presented in its original 1.33:1 made-for-television full-frame aspect ratio, drawn from a broadcast videotape master. The production was shot entirely on videotape, with some lighting flaws, edge enhancement, smeary details, red/blue aliasing and scanline "jaggies" here and there, but color is good and the material doesn't seem compromised by the digital transfer in any way. It's typical contemporary documentary footage, presented faithfully enough on DVD.
Image Transfer Grade: B-
Audio Transfer Review: A&E presents Egypt: Beyond the Pyramids with its original Dolby 2.0 audio. The soundtrack is almost entirely monophonic, with just a hint of musical stereo separation and no rear activity whatsoever. Dialogue is clear and remarkably free of extraneous noise, given the on-location nature of documentary filmmaking, and the soundtrack supports the content properly; it's just not a dramatic soundtrack, even by television standards.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Extras Review: A&E's DVD set includes The Making of Egypt: Beyond the Pyramids, a twenty-two minute documentary originally aired to help promote the four-episode series on The History Channel. Some of the material is redundant with the actual program, but this special does a nice job depicting the difficulty of shooting in remote areas at delicate dig sites. The program also includes a great crash course in Egyptian history, valuable viewing before diving into Egypt proper. There are no other supplements here, just six picture-menu chapter stops per episode, forced into a six-element pyramid graphic design with some awkwardly-placed breaks. Documentaries generally don't require much in the way of additional support, though it would have been nice to see some of the series' fascinating images in "gallery" form.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsEgypt: Beyond the Pyramids is an engaging, fascinating look at recent discoveries about the ancient Egyptians, well-presented in A&E's 2-disc DVD set. Anyone with an interest in the subject will find it well worth the viewing.
Dale Dobson 2001-06-25