DVD: Tutankhamun / The Mummy of Tutankhamun (2016)

October 6, 2017 | By

Film: Very Good

Transfer:  Very Good

Extras: n/a

Label:  ITV

Region: 1 (NTSC)

Released:  June 6, 2017

Genre:  Drama / Romance / Archeology/ Ancient Egypt

Synopsis: Romanticized account of Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb, still regarded as one of the best preserved and most intact royal tombs from ancient Egypt.

Special Features:  (none)




Perhaps put into production to beat Tom Cruise’s The Mummy production by a year, this 4-part ITV mini-series was foolishly rebranded as The Mummy of Tutankhamun for North American home video, confusing DVD buyers who caught the series on TV.

Guy Burt’s teleplays blends a mix of fact and fanciful fiction in recounting the momentous discovery of King Tut’s tomb in 1922, still regarded as the best preserved and most intact ancient Egyptian tomb. Max Irons plays famed Egyptologist Howard Carter, hired by patron Lord Carnavon (Sam Neill) to search for hidden treasures in the Valley of the Kings. While other patrons declared the valley dry of any further riches, Carter insisted King Tut’s tomb lay buried in the central valley, but it took heavy pressure to convince Carnavon to sponsor one final season, and allow free reign to choose the new dig site.

When that first stone step leading into a buried chamber was found, the excavation yielded further details that suggested Tut’s treasure had never been disturbed. What transpired after the momentous discovery was a media frenzy: Carter wanted privacy for his team to dig in peace; reporters invented scurrilous reports to attract readers when Carter refused any media scrum; and the Egyptian antiquities ministry rewrote laws to ensure 100% ownership of all newly discovered royal tombs remained with the Egyptian people.

This tug-of-war is dramatized in the series’ final two episodes, more than touching upon the long-standing tradition of European colonial powers acquiring the ancient cultural heritage of other nations and carting them back for domestic museum galleries. Carter’s riposte to gov’t rep Pierre Lacau (Nicolas Beaucaire) is ‘You’ve had 3000 years to find and exploit your treasures,’ but Lacau’s name dropping of the Elgin Marbles from Greece’s Parthenon silences further jabs. Historically, the pair apparently maintained a strong dislike for each other, but Burt’s script also dramatizes Carter’s initially inability to deal with the media, and his clever deal to grant exclusives to one paper in exchange for further digging funds.

The production design is first-rate, with exceptional detail to costumes, cars, and Tut’s artifacts, which recall the key items that toured the world from 1972-1981, and more recently from 2004-2011. David Raedeker’s cinematography is lovely, filling the screen with shades of amber and red, and Christian Henson’s score features strong central themes and enough variations to ensure no theme is heavily repeated. There’s also great understatement in the pivotal scenes where Carter, Carnavon, and daughter Evelyn (Amy Wren) enter the sealed chamber and witness the ‘wonder’ before the official media reveal days later. Henson nails the anticipation and brimming excitement of Carter’s first look through a hole with a candle, and director Peter Webber eases the teleplay’s pacing to ensure the mystique and wonder of each archeological milestone aren’t rushed or treated in a perfunctory manner.

Tutankhamun doesn’t aim to be an action mini-series – it’s a balance of history, politics, wonder, and romance – but fans of ancient Egypt will appreciate the detail and care given towards the 15 year odyssey of Carter and the Carnavons. As for the romances, well, that’s where the teleplay becomes very predicable.

The romances between Carter and likely fictional American archeologist Maggie Lewis (Catherine Steadman) is too neat; she exists to maintain Carter as a determined but more nerdy Indiana Jones archetype; handsome, but also emotional and prone to facial twitches when he’s feeling vulnerable.

Maggie’s also a faux foil for the teleplay’s second contrived romantic liaison Carter begins with Evelyn. The lovers are forced to keep their snogging secret because daddy would disapprove and ban any further contact and communication. All these sillies play out near the end, and the dialogue that has Evelyn convincing her father to re-hire Carter is clichéd and feels utterly bogus.

None of the British cast members manage to maintain reliable American accents, but the solidity of their performances manages to soften the melodrama and stark clichés. Tutankhamun doesn’t feel like a definitive chronology of a remarkable event in archeological history , but as a heavily mannered British mini-series where all ends well for all parties, it’s good historical drama that doesn’t belittle the importance of the key players in Tutankhamun’s rebirth as Egypt’s most famous human icon.

ITV’s DVD offers all 4 episodes on 1 DVD, and although that’s a tight 3 hours of content, the compression is unable to hide the adequate PAL to NTSC transfer. Pity the teleplay isn’t available on Blu-ray – the production would shine in HD, as would Henson’s score. The 5.1 sound mix is very subtle, with music and slight reverb of crowds being the most overt times the rear surrounds become active.

As mentioned at the onset, the Region 1 DVD sports a different title with “Mummy” in bold caps, and a mass of flying birds, distressed characters, and a transforming mummy over a fiery backdrop – all bullshit, as the teleplay’s neither packed with Indiana Jones heroism, mystique, nor Agatha Christie mystery. The British Region 2 cover, however, is no better, sporting that generic cast cover where the actors are either wearing neutral masks, gazing at us with utter disgust (typical of crime series), or in this case, a moment of awkward discovery, typical of more comedic series like Doc Martin.

Also seemingly designed to cash-in on Cruise’s Mummy film is the simple-titled Tut (2015), which aired on the U.S. cable network Spike.



© 2017 Mark R. Hasan



External References:
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Category: Blu-ray / DVD Film Review

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