The latest effort from prolific IMAX director Greg MacGillivray, "Greece: Secrets of the Past" proves that there's still good large-format documentaries being made, in a time when IMAX theatres are often busy showing IMAX versions of current theatrical releases.
The film, narrated by Nia Vardalos (from, as we're reminded at the opening, from "My Big Fat Greek Wedding"), splits its focus between looks at what happened to the island society of Santorini, as well as ancient Greek society in general. Santorini was once the home of a busy populace, but it was wiped out by one of the biggest volcanic erruptions in recorded history.
Archaeologist Christos Doumas provides co-narration duties and is occasionally seen on-screen, taking us through some of the historical facts and chatting about the artifacts that were able to be found from Santorini's devastated ancient culture. Doumas eventually joins up with a volcanologist who investigates the layers of a rock wall, with the results of his study leading to theories about the exact phases of the tremendous blast. The erruption produced devastating pyroclastic flows (see the last scene in "Dante's Peak", which, while ridiculous, illustrates a pyroclastic flow), which wiped out everything in their path.
Obviously, a film isn't going to go into the complete history of Greece within the span of 45 minutes, and with only a portion of that time to devote to history (the other part devoted to grand, IMAX-sized views of the country), the history portion - while interesting - may feel a tad thin to those with prior knowledge of Greek history.
"Greece: Secrets of the Past" partly focuses on the investigation of the island culture and what can be learned from what remains have been found. The other portion of the documentary provides a basic overview of early Greek civilization, discussing democracy, the arts, Gods and Goddesses and more. The film uses digital effects to take us into the midst of erruption that demolished Santoriri and to a digitally restored Parthenon. Tying things together are some helicopter shots over that are typically IMAX: grand, glossy and beautiful (without them, this would otherwise feel at home on the History Channel.)
"Greece" isn't among the finest of MacGillivray (see also: "Everest", "Dolphins", "The Living Sea", "Speed" and the upcoming "Hurricane on the Bayou")'s efforts, but the film provides an engaging look at aspects of Greek history and a lovely tour guide of some of the country's most beautiful areas.
VIDEO: Image presents "Greece" in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Although the presentation often looks quite nice, a few flaws here-and-there result in it coming up a little short of the kind of image quality that Image Entertainment's IMAX titles usually display. Sharpness and detail are generally solid, although a few scenes look mildly softer than the rest. While no edge enhancement is seen, some mild shimmer and a few moments of noticable artifacting take away from the presentation a bit. Colors are rich and bold, with nice saturation and no smearing or other issues.
SOUND: The film is offered with both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 soundtrack options. While IMAX films typically present an aggressive audio presentation to go along with the huge visuals, "Greece" largely used the surrounds to deliver the enjoyable score. Still, there were a few moments that really brought the speakers to life, such as the recreation of the volcanic erruption that leveled Santorino - that scene provided some very immersive sound use and deep bass. Overall, audio quality was perfectly satisfactory, as score, dialogue and effects seem crisp and clear.
EXTRAS: A 22-minute "making of" is the main extra. As per usual, one wonders why major studios generally do not offer "making of" featurettes as concise or informative as the "making of"s that go along with IMAX features. MacGillivray provides an informative discussion of how the recreation of the Parthanon was done, with the help of an incredibly expensive camera on a helicopter and digital imaging. It's the most expensive shot the director has ever done for an IMAX film and may be the most expensive shot ever done in an IMAX-specific feature. We also learn more about editing, scoring the film and the tasks of some of the film's many team members.
We also get: a 15-minute loop of the scenes flying over the landscape, with optional score; trivia quiz, Greek timeline, director bio, trailers and some brief additional educational notes.
Final Thoughts: "Greece: Secrets of the Past" doesn't have the running time to fit in a full view of the topics that it chooses to focus on, but it does offer some beautiful views of Greece and some engaging facts about its past. The DVD offers satisfying audio/video quality, along with a few nice (if brief) extras. Recommended for IMAX fans.