When you talk about ancient Egypt there are many things that come up. Pharaohs, tombs, mummies, treasures, technology, and their view of the afterlife are most all of the hot topics. In recent years there have been several documentaries covering each of those subjects, and for the most part the Discovery Channel has covered them all. In an effort to please lovers of Egypt, educators, and those who just want a solid documentary, Discovery has just released Ancient Egypt Unearthed.
Ancient Egypt Unearthed is a two disc set chock full of more than eight hours of material which covers a wide range of the aforementioned topics. The eight episodes of Egyptian goodness included here mostly come from multiple DVDs and releases of the past. Chances are very good that some of these may have slipped past you, so if you're an Egypt aficionado you'll be happy to know that even if one of these are already in your collection there's plenty of other stuff to watch as well.
The first disc includes Egypt Uncovered, which was a series from the late 90's that contained five episodes. The first episode, "Chaos and Kings" looks at the beginning of the Egyptian civilization as archaeologists and scientists look at facts and discoveries that point towards how things came to be. This served as a great introduction to the series and as a nice launching point for the rest of Ancient Egypt Unearthed. From there Uncovered goes on to look at the Pyramids, how the Egyptians used gold, the various gods and rituals, and mummies.
Egypt Uncovered was a solid show all around, and though the material felt a little dry at times it was very informative. There are some fascinating perspectives and information that are brought to light in each episode. There are also a slew of interviews, on site locations, and archival footage to help bring everything together. In all honesty there aren't any startling revelations here, but it's educational and entertaining enough to stand on its own two feet.
Moving on to the second disc is a smattering of content that covers an equally impressive breadth of topics. Probably the most fascinating is "Egypt's Ten Greatest Discoveries" which has the authority on ancient Egypt, Dr. Zahi Hawass, taking us through a top ten list of things Egypt brought to the world. From some fascinating technology that brought about boats and obelisks to the creation of pyramids and temples, this documentary studies each item carefully. There's a lot crammed into this episode, but it moves briskly enough and balances out the time it spends with each subject.
"Secrets of Egypt's Lost Queen" was probably the most fascinating documentary on this set in my opinion. This one brings Dr. Zahi Hawass back on a quest to find Egypt's greatest female pharaoh, Hatshepsut. Thought lost in the sands of time and erased from the annals of history, Hatshepsut became something of an enigma and romantic point for Egyptologists. This documentary traces Hawass' steps as he recovers a mummy and takes a team through an extensive amount of research and tests, which include using DNA and an MRI machine to solve an ancient mystery. It's a fantastically produced documentary with a lot of interesting points, and unlike other historical discovery features this one actually has some resolution.
The remaining episodes on Ancient Egypt Unearthed include "Why Ancient Egypt Fell" and "Women Pharaohs". Both episodes were strong, but not quite as interesting as the others. The one regarding the fall of Egypt has some fascinating tidbits and the "Women Pharaohs" episode brings back some of the Hatshepsut content. Overall they were fine documentaries by themselves, but when paired with the rest of the episodes here they felt a little redundant.
Overall Ancient Egypt Unearthed is a DVD set that loves of Egypt simply must own. It's an insightful, educational, and entertaining look at Egypt's ancient culture and what they brought to the world over the course of thousands of years. Some of the material is sensationalized for TV, but that doesn't detract from the quality of each documentary. Whether you're a teacher bring the subject to a classroom or just someone whose interest is peaked by the title, you simply can't go wrong. Consider it highly recommended.
Ancient Egypt Unearthed is presented on DVD with each documentary's original aspect ratio. "Egypt Uncovered" comes with an anamorphic 1.66:1 presentation, but it's cropped with black bars on each side of the picture. "Egypt's Ten Greatest Discoveries", "Secrets of Egypt's Lost Queen", and "Women Pharaohs" are also presented with an anamorphic 1.78:1 aspect ratio, but they enjoy full widescreen. "Why Ancient Egypt Fell" is an older production and comes with a 1.33:1 fullscreen presentation.
The video quality of each show varies greatly as well. "Egypt Uncovered", "Women Pharaohs", and "Why Ancient Egypt Fell" fare the worst with an abundance of grain and a very soft image. The other two documentaries, however, are very crisp with sharp resolution and little in terms of flaws. There is some grain during darker, tomb dwelling moments, but that's to be expected. Overall the look of this release is rather underwhelming, though considering the material it's acceptable enough.
The same can be said for the sound quality of this release, since the Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo is about as no-frills as you can get. Considering this is a documentary DVD it's not really surprising, and in all honesty you don't need a 5.1 to get the gist of what's going on. There are no problems with dropout or distortion and the dialogue is otherwise clean enough. No subtitles are included for any of the episodes here.
No bonus features are included on Ancient Egypt Unearthed.
If you are looking for a well produced series of documentaries on ancient Egypt then you really need to look no further. Ancient Egypt Unearthed is a very entertaining release with nearly nine hours worth of material. While it doesn't cover absolutely everything dealing with Egypt, there's more stuff here than you can shake a stick at. Those interested in the subject or anyone looking for solid educational values will be pleased with this release. Highly Recommended
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