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Egypt: Quest for Eternity

Warner Bros. // Unrated // September 3, 2002
List Price: $19.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted April 2, 2003 | E-mail the Author
The movie

The ancient Egyptians forged one of the earliest great civilizations in history, and ensured that they would not be forgotten, by building tremendous monuments in stone that have endured throughout thousands of years to impress us even now in the present day. The great pyramids are the best known of Egypt's monuments, but in addition to these tombs, the pharaohs commissioned many other works in stone, from enormous sculptures to vast temples. Egypt: Quest for Eternity takes a look at many of these great monuments, showing us what these structures meant to the ancient Egyptians who built and used them, as well as detailing modern-day efforts to discover and preserve them.

The footage of the various monuments is quite impressive: in addition to the famous Great Pyramid, we see the Valley of the Kings, the temples at Luxor and Karnak, and a number of other tombs and residences, some in the process of being excavated. Of particular interest was the painstaking re-assembly of a partially destroyed temple, as archaeologists recover blocks that were broken off for use as building materials in ages past, and analyze their carvings to determine where in the gigantic structure they fit in. In fact, we see several teams of archaeologists at work in this program, including an exhaustive study of all of Egypt's hieroglyphic carvings and a survey of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings and Valley of the Queens, which might even lead to new discoveries.

Another strong point of Egypt: Quest for Eternity (and its companion feature, Mystery Tombs of Abusir) is its excellent use of maps. The location of the various places that are discussed in the documentary are clearly indicated on maps that are shown regularly throughout the program, which really helps a great deal in understanding and appreciating the material.

However, despite its fairly large amount of interesting material, this documentary unfortunately suffers from a severe organizational problem. To be specific, it doesn't seem to have any logical organization at all. The narration wanders from topic to topic without any overall structure or theme; we get snippets on assorted archaeologists and their projects, various temples, the activities of a few pharaohs, a description of ancient ceremonies, and a look at the disassembling of the Abu Simbel temple to save it from the Aswan dam flooding, all mixed in without any particular order.

This lack of structure works against the inherent interesting quality of the documentary's topic; it's hard to maintain interest throughout the program when there's no sense of progressively learning something. In contrast, the excellent structure of the shorter feature on this disc, Mystery Tombs of Abusir, shows how a good structure and logical organization can make for a very gripping viewing experience.

The DVD case claims that the program is 60 minutes long, but this is not the case: Egypt: Quest for Eternity runs only 46 minutes, making it a rather skimpy offering. Fortunately, the companion piece, a program titled Mystery Tombs of Abusir, provides additional substance. While it's labeled as a bonus feature, this 26-minute piece is better considered part of the main package of the DVD... especially considering that the cover image is taken from this feature, not the main one!

Mystery Tombs of Abusir is much more recent than Egypt: Quest for Eternity, and much more focused. In fact, it's a lot better than the main feature, and it's really the saving grace of this DVD. Here, we learn of a newly discovered tomb that promises an unopened, 2,500-year-old sarcophagus. The program follows the archaeological team as they uncover the tomb's contents, and works in information about the inhabitant and his life and times along the way. All in all, it's a very informative and interesting program that rounds out the overall DVD nicely.



I was disappointed in the image quality of the main feature. The image, which is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, is in poor condition, with a substantial number of print flaws appearing, as well as a very high noise level. Edge enhancement is also used heavily, and in combination with the noise, results in a blurred and fuzzy picture. The overall image also looks slightly faded. It's unfortunate that the picture was not restored or cleaned up, because the worn appearance adds a dated feel to the program that doesn't have to be there. Rated by itself, I'd only give this one and a half stars.

Mystery Tombs of Abusir is in much better condition, with hardly any print flaws or noise; its better image quality allows me to notch up the overall video rating a bit more than the main feature would earn by itself.


The Dolby 2.0 audio track is adequate, but no more than that. The soundtrack presents the narrator's voice clearly, but it doesn't handle the voices of some of the other people who we hear from over the course of the program quite as well. The sound overall is rather flat, but has no particular flaws.


The only real special feature is the 26-minute program Mystery Tombs of Abusir, which I've considered as part of the main feature, and discussed in the main part of the review. (It's very good.) Apart from this, there's just the standard set of trailers for other National Geographic specials. The menus are attractive and easy to navigate.

Final thoughts

Egypt: Quest for Eternity is a rather unfocused but still reasonably interesting documentary that takes us on a tour of various important archaeological sites throughout Egypt, and offers some glimpses into what life might have been like for the ancient Egyptians. The best part of the DVD is the second, shorter feature included: Mystery Tombs of Abusir, which is a much more focused and interesting piece that details the discovery of an unopened tomb. The overall image quality is disappointing, but it's watchable; I'll offer a mild recommendation for viewers interested in the subject.

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