MYSTERY OF THE NILENR
Although it is one of the world's most storied rivers, the entire Nile had never been "run," or descended by boat, before an expedition led by Pasquale Scaturro and Gordon Brown attempted to in 2004. Mystery of the Nile documents their trip by raft and kayak from the source of the Blue Nile in the highlands of Ethiopia to Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea. Shot in part by legendary IMAX cinematographer Reed Smoot, the film offers outstanding large-format footage of some of the most remote locations in Africa.
Scaturro and Brown began their four-month journey at Sakala Springs near Lake Tana in Ethiopia, where the Blue Nile, source of over 80 percent of the water in the Nile, originates. Scaturro, a noted mountaineer who guided blind climber Erik Weihenmayer up Everest, had previously explored many African rivers. Brown functioned as both scout and sweep during the trip, circling around the team's two rafts in a modified kayak. The other team members-Egyptian hydrologist Mohamed Megahed, Spanish journalist Saskia Lange, Spanish archeologist Myriam Seco and Chilean still photographer Michel L'Huillier-had considerably less experience on whitewater rapids.
In fact, Megahed is thrown from his raft while descending one set of rapids. A modified IMAX camera lashed to the prow of a raft gives viewers a first-hand look at what it's like to smash down a rocky waterfall. In the film's most thrilling sequence, L'Huillier and others grapple with an overturned raft in raging white waters where crocodiles have been spotted.
At Tissisat Falls, Brown sits in his kayak while others lower him by rope over a hundred feet to the water below. Sudanese bandits open fire on him while he is scouting an arm of the river. Unfortunately, the filmmakers chose to "re-create" footage for this and other scenes, a strategy that's misleading as well as unnecessary. Oddly, no mention is made of the armed guards who accompanied the expedition, or of the support staff in general.
A bigger drawback to the film is that the beginning of the journey is much more exciting than the end. As the expedition passes through Sudan to Egypt, team members are reduced to visiting shrines and tombs that, while picturesque, are not especially compelling. Apart from glimpses into exotic cultures and bromides about living in harmony with one another and the environment, the film's value as an educational tool is limited.
Younger viewers are much more likely to be impressed by early shots of crocodiles and rapids. They are the highlights of Mystery of the Nile, an otherwise disappointing travelogue.