Greece: Secrets of the Past

Greg MacGillivray's latest 40-minute giant-screen feature "Greece: Secrets of the Past" lets the geography and architecture do the talking, spending more time on stunning helicopter shots than nosing around stuffy museums. To better position the pic as the definitive big fat Greek moviegoing experience, MacGillivray taps Nia Vardalos to supply chipper narration about the country's contributions to democracy, theater and the Olympic games.

With:
With: Christos Doumas, Georges Vougioukalakis.

Greg MacGillivray’s latest 40-minute giant-screen feature “Greece: Secrets of the Past” lets the geography and architecture do the talking, spending more time on stunning helicopter shots than nosing around stuffy museums. To better position the pic as the definitive big fat Greek moviegoing experience, MacGillivray taps Nia Vardalos to supply chipper narration about the country’s contributions to democracy, theater and the Olympic games. Nonetheless, docu’s prospects seem limited to museumgoers, elementary school auds and hardcore Hellenists.

Pic marks a passion project for director MacGillivray, who first fell for Greece some 30 years ago when shooting the aerial sequences on hang-gliding adventure pic “Sky Riders.” Dramatic god’s-eye-view shots remain the director’s forte, although there’s little mention of the gods themselves here — or Greek mythology.

MacGillivray favors a strictly scientific emphasis on archaeology, with excavation expert Christos Doumas dryly guiding auds through recent discoveries. But, viewers will be most impressed by the digital recreation of the largest volcanic explosion in recorded history, which buried an island civilization 1725 years before Pompeii.

Still, “Greece” ranks among the tamer large-format docus to date. Aerial views of abandoned ruins and scenic Santorini Island don’t exactly get the adrenaline racing.

Although scenic visuals give “Greece” a travelogue-like feel, in some scenes modern f/x dramatically melds ancient history with state-of-the-art digital technology — all the more impressive considering the resolution auds have come to expect from the Imax format.

Circling near the Parthenon, one flyover shot transforms what remains of the Acropolis site back to the colorful shrine it once was. CG imaging restores the lost details and shows the gilded statue of Athena that once stood at the center of the Parthenon. Result is the most expensive single shot ever done for an Imax film.

To accomplish the breathtaking visuals, d.p. Brad Ohlund teamed with SpaceCam inventor and daredevil helicopter pilot Ron Goodman. But, the more time the crew spends in the air, the less information the film seems to impart about Greece itself.

Composer Steve Wood infuses distinctly Mediterranean music with Imax grandeur in a series of Greek-language vocal arrangements that should keep the project from feeling dated as it continues to play the large-screen circuit.

Greece: Secrets of the Past

Production: A MacGillivray Freeman Films production presented by Alex G. Spanos and produced in association with the Canadian Museum of Civilization and Museum Film Network with major funding provided by the National Science Foundation and MacGillivray Freeman Films Educational Foundation. Produced by Greg MacGillivray, Alec Lorimore.  Directed by Greg MacGillivray. Written by Stephen Judson, Jon Boorstin.

Crew: Camera (color), Brad Ohlund; editor, Stephen Judson; music, Steve Wood. Reviewed at Universal Studios Imax, Universal City, Calif., March 29, 2006. Running time: 40 MIN. Narrator: Nia Vardalos.

With: With: Christos Doumas, Georges Vougioukalakis.

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