From Ethiopia to the Mediterranean, Mystery of the Nile stumbles upon a thrilling narrative which falls into documentary more by accident. Following an untrained team, Mystery charts their 114 day journey through the entirety of the Nile, investigating culture, religion, artifacts, and natural impact of the native populace.
This team became the first to make this trek successfully, with previous voyagers either dying or giving up before reaching the famed river’s end. Mystery mixes elements of iconic adventure sagas, from the generosity of native people to the harrowing rush of rapids – filled with crocodiles. Even under IMAX’s 65mm gaze, the feature creates substantial thrills, with angles capturing the flair of action cinema.
Egypt’s sights are many, from notable pyramid landmarks into deserts and bustling cities, all captured as the journey passes through. It is varied and captivating, mixed with the usual rush of panoramic vistas associated with these documentary shorts. Missing are the daring set-ups, used briefly on the edge of a raft before cameras pull back to the river’s edge. It’s likely the scenario was already to the extreme edges of danger and adding camera weight would have been foolish.
There remain numerous sights of daring waterfall drops and even a theft attempt by gun toting bandits captured on film. This is no less intense due to the expectations of these IMAX features. Directed by Jordi Llompart (not Greg MacGillivray) Mystery has its own feel and stands refreshing against the rush of similarly produced shorts.
Adding to the authenticity are brief interviews, captured as the journey progressed where viewers can gain a sense of the growing weariness. Seeing these explorers chipper and upbeat as they begin before turning visibly drained from exhaustion near the end provides a sense of time better than text updates. Their record setting Nile run was captured in a book as well, but seeing it happen captures the true daring.
Image encodes the 47-minute feature in AVC, enough to subside fears regarding compression problems given the parameters. However, source mastering bungles the end product, dotting it with noise reduction and edge enhancement. DNR specifically plunders fidelity from each frame, taking these beautiful locales and rendering them in digital mud. It hardly seems fair.
This is all a redundancy for these Image-produced IMAX discs, ported from HD DVD without tweaks (maybe new encoding if they show generosity). Coarse grain is tantamount to dated technique, unnaturally thick considering the film source carries an almost invisible fine layer at its peak. Highlights are buzzing with noise, a distraction wholly unnecessary with proper high resolution mastering.
Movement can cast a notable haze across the feature, prevalent during crashing waves. It is an unnatural layer of ghosting which piles on the flubs with regards to this visual presentation. Whatever tool set applied the noise reduction clearly struggled when faced with these complexities.
Mystery of the Nile is sprayed with over saturated color, causing vivid clothes to bleed when featured. Consider it another sign of dated processes. There is more, from the tinge of edge enhancement to minimal image definition all around. This is all squandered and worse than most.
Produced with dazzling audio, the DTS-HD tracks are a consistent savior to these technically decrepit offerings. Fitted with a hefty musical swell, surrounds are actively utilized to push the score out from the center. The effect hits the rears aggressively, although to pleasing levels.
A religious ceremony is an aural highlight, with boomy drums and enveloping clapping in celebration. This centers the audience in the midst of the local tradition. Stormy seas and brief underwater danger will work over the mix as well, utilizing LFE bursts extensively with help from the stereos/surrounds. Even some dialog slips into the sides effectively.
As expected, the disc’s making of is substantial at 43-minutes, detailing the dangers faced by the crew which were often equal to the exploratory team. Text bonuses include a trivia quiz, Nile facts, and promotional pieces for the companion book and filmmakers.
Full disclosure: This Blu-ray was provided to us for review. This has not affected the editorial process. For more information on how we handle review material, please visit our about us page to learn more.
Note: This disc is part of the MacGillivary Freeman Limited Edition Gift Set, containing 10 of the IMAX features from their library. The Mystery of the Nile disc in the set is identical to the stand-alone retail release.