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Television: Fresh Look at the Pyramids Volume 56 Number 2, March/April 2003
by Bob Brier


"Building the Great Pyramid" features extraordinary computer graphics of the monument's construction. (Courtesy Discovery Channel) [LARGER IMAGE]

There is an insatiable appetite for television documentaries about pyramids, and usually each has enough novelty and enough reworked material that viewers aren't quite sure if they've seen this one before. Refreshingly, this is not the case with the "Building the Great Pyramid" (airing on the Discovery Channel, March 2nd, 9 p.m. EST).

This one-hour special has it all--a good story line, wonderful visuals, a lyrical musical score that is absolutely haunting in places, great photography, and a narration by Omar Sharif that gives the entire show a touching sweetness--if you can imagine a sweet pyramid show! There are even enough details about the building process to make the techies happy.

The story is told from the point of view of Nakht, a villager from the south, conscripted to work on the Great Pyramid. Through his eyes and Sharif's voice, the viewer gets an insight into what it must have been like to work on the pyramid. The you-are-there feeling is augmented by an interesting interplay of computer graphics and re-creations by actors. Re-creations, especially in Egypt, are generally hokey, but these rise above: costumes are good, acting is above average, and the modern Arabic they speak isn't distracting. But the real star of the show is the computer graphics, which make it seem as if you are watching thousands of men at work on Khufu's pyramid.

It would have been easy to rely on the graphics and re-creations to drive the documentary, but scriptwriter Jonathan Stamp has tied it all together with a simple but strong story line that gives the show its charm. Sure, there are some small inaccuracies that will raise a few Egyptological eyebrows. (The pyramid shape as a tomb was not conceived by "some impulse." It was an architectural development that evolved over decades. And we can't say that the pyramid builders didn't have cranes and levers.) But to complain would be carping. The viewer has been given a wonderful peek into a unique historical event, and it is a story well told.

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© 2003 by the Archaeological Institute of America