Tuesday, November 19, 2013

#1,191. Pyramid (1988)

Directed By: Larry Klein

Starring: David Macaulay, Derek Jacobi, Brian Blessed

Tag line: "Tours of the World's Most Magnificent Structures"

Trivia: This was based on a 1975 children's book written by David Macaulay

I first saw Pyramid, a 1988 documentary originally broadcast on public television, back when I was in college. History has always been a favorite subject of mine, especially ancient history, and I would scour the shelves of the college library looking for videos on the early days of Rome, Greece, and Egypt. My two best discoveries were the 1976 BBC mini-series, I Claudius (which I try to watch at least once a year) and this movie.

Pyramid is an unusual documentary in that it combines footage of its host, noted author and engineer David Macaulay, with an animated short that transports us thousands of years into the past. In the scenes featuring Macaulay, we’re taken to the sites of several ancient ruins, where our host provides an insightful lesson on Egypt’s colorful history, covering everything from the mummification process to the engineering of the Great Pyramid. At one point, he even delves into Egyptian mythology, giving us a brief overview on the God Osiris, ruler of the underworld. It’s clear Macaulay did plenty of research on Ancient Egypt, and his presentations are as fascinating as they are informative.

Equally as good are the film’s animated sequences, where we’re treated to a dramatic re-creation of the building of the Great Pyramid at Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Narrated by Hordedef (voiced by Derek Jacobi), a son of the Pharaoh Khufu (John Hurt), we hear the story of how the Pyramid, under the guidance of Vizier and master builder Ankhaf (Brian Blessed), was constructed, while also exploring other topics such as grave robbing and intrigue in the royal court (early on, Khufu’s three wives argue over which of them should have the bigger tomb). Many fine British actors lend their talents to this animated short (stars like Siân Phillips and Tim Pigott-Smith also provide voices), and, along with David Macaulay, do their part to bring Ancient Egypt alive in an entertaining way.

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