Mummy movie at Pacific Science Center

          Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs, which opened at Pacific Science Center on Dec. 26, makes good use of its large-screen format. The camera pans across intricately carved friezes found in Mummies!Egyptian tombs, giving us a lovingly detailed view, and showing us the bare landscape of the Valley of the Kings, the burial grounds of Egyptian nobility for half a millennium. It’s a beautiful film in places.

            The best audience for the movie is kids about 10 and older, young enough to still be fascinated with mummies (there are some good close-ups) but old enough to follow the historical and scientific background laid out in the film. At only 40 minutes, it won’t tax anyone’s patience.

One strand of the story uses vivid historical recreations of ancient Egyptian life to examine why mummification was practiced -- amazingly, the actual process for mummification has only been fully understood for about the past 15 years. We see massive tombs being built and then destroyed by time, their elaborately decorated interiors, and scenes from Egyptian royal life. (Egyptian royalty were all lean, fit and incredibly hot, based on the way they’re shown in the film.)

Royal tombs were plundered relentlessly throughout Egypt’s history, and an intact mummy of a Pharaoh wasn’t found until the late 19th century, when a pair of tomb robbers discovered a large number of royal mummies, including that of Ramses the Great, the “Pharaoh” of the Biblical Exodus. A recreation of the life of 19th-century tomb robbers and the work of an English Egyptologist protect and preserve the royal mummies raises interesting questions about the exploitation of a country’s cultural patrimony by outsiders – and its own people.

Another part of the film looks at the work of Dr. Bob Brier and Dr. Angelique Corthals, who create a modern-day mummy, using what is now known about the ancient Egyptian process. The pair uses their mummy to study how to best extract DNA from a mummified body. There’s a nice, clear explanation of the evolution of diseases and the structure of DNA at this point.

The film ends rather abruptly, and the separate story elements don’t really seem to hang together, but it’s an absorbing look at a fascinating belief system that left us with artifacts that scientists and historians continue to learn from to this day.

If you go

Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs plays daily at the Pacific Science Center. For updated show times, visit Tickets are $8 (ages 13-64), $7 (ages 6-12), and $6 (ages 3-5).

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