"No land on Earth possesses more wonder than Egypt." Thus claims the character portrayed by actor Omar Sharif in the IMAX movie Mysteries of Egypt, coproduced with National Geographic, and opening Friday, September 24, at the combination IMAX/IMAX 3-D theater in South Miami's Shops at Sunset Place.
Whether outfitted in a tailored three-piece suit or a flowing caftan, Sharif cuts a dashing figure as a wise grandfather who thoughtfully explains the marvels (manmade and otherwise) of his native land to his curious granddaughter, played by Kate Maberly. She's more interested in apocryphal mummies' curses than in anything of substance, but soon she and the audience are captivated by the tale Sharif weaves. Beginning with a re-enactment of the funeral of King Tutankhamen, the 50-minute film intersperses a black-and-white dramatization of archaeologist Howard Carter's sixth, and at last successful, search for the pharaoh's well-hidden tomb with stunning color footage and fascinating information about the history of Egypt, its 3000-year lifespan earning it the title of longest-lived ancient civilization.
More enduring still and a major character in the film is Africa's 4000-milelong Nile river, a lifeline for Egyptians. Dizzying shots of the rushing current come courtesy of a camera mounted in an airplane soaring over the length of the waterway from its originating points, the Blue and White Niles. Equally daunting but not nearly as stomach-churning are images of enormous obelisks carved out of single blocks of granite, tremendous statues made from solid rock, and the colossal 4000-year-old pyramids of Giza, last of the seven ancient wonders of the world and what Sharif refers to in the film as "manmade mountains of stone." As Sharif expounds upon the astronomy, mathematics, and engineering skills (and copious slave labor) necessary to construct the geometric giants, the audience can't help but dwell on the technology used to create a film projected on a six-story high screen, one of IMAX's smaller models (a ten-story high model exists in Australia).
The IMAX process was developed in Canada in the late-Sixties by a group of filmmakers who wanted to show their movies using one very powerful projector, instead of utilizing the ungainly multiple models available at the time. The result: cameras weighing anywhere from 70 to 80 pounds and film in the 70mm/15-perforation format (ten times larger than standard 35mm stuff screened at a conventional moviehouse), plus booming twelve-channel wraparound digital sound. For the audience: an initially uncomfortable but ultimately pleasant form of sensory overload, very much like sitting too close to the TV -- a really immense TV.
And for the armchair adventurer? A chance to live big vicariously. The IMAX experience allows the viewer to climb Mount Everest, go deep-sea diving, tumble through outer space, and observe the pyramids from every angle. "It's very much what you get when you go to a theme park: a magical journey," says theater director John Larochelle. "You get as close to being somewhere without actually going there."