Friday, April 4, 2014

IMAX, Schimax, Are We Being Quizzed On This?: "Mystery of the Maya" (1995)

This short thirty-eight minute Canadian/Mexican production was filmed in IMAX for some unfathomable reason, using a lame set-up about a boy (Nicolas Alonso) and an archaeologist (Blanca Guerra) to give a brief history of the ancient Mayan people of modern-day Mexico, who disappeared in the ninth and tenth centuries (hence the "mystery" of the title).

The film is an international production, and the DVD viewer has a choice of languages, but the dialogue is badly recorded with audio translations coming after the Spanish speaking performers says their lines. The music is too loud, almost drowning out some of the narration, as well. Most interesting is the "then and now" footage. There were many explorers of the ruins over the years, and the film makers found where early photographs and drawings were taken, and show the change (if any) between then and today. Also interesting is the decoding of the Mayans' numbering system, and their advances in astronomy. This knowledge must be gleaned from glyphs carved in stone, since a Catholic monk burned most of their codices almost five hundred years ago (only four survive). Also of interest is the discovery of a king's tomb underneath a floor and down a hidden stairway.

The sweeping helicopter shots of the ruins are breath-taking, and must have been impressive on the ginormous IMAX screen, but the documentary is strictly aimed at junior high school students. Watching the film on a regular flat-screen television gives the picture a washed-out look, and sitting close to the screen to get the IMAX experience only gave me a headache.

"Mystery of the Maya" is an average flick. (* * *) out of five stars.