Although this documentary has a juicy premise as its foundation — the mystery surrounding Hatshepsut, an Egyptian queen who stole the thrown and “ruled as a man” — this painstaking Discovery special is, ultimately, a bit of a snooze. Dr. Zahi Hawass, Egypt’s Secretary General of the Supreme Council of the Antiquities, has more than a bit of Geraldo Rivera in him, but no matter how hard he and the producers labor to convey it, their enthusiasm over this “missing persons case” doesn’t translate. For anybody lacking an academic level of commitment to archaeology, sorry, she’s not our mummy.
Much of the two hours follows Hawass as he seeks to identify the mummified remains of Hatshepsut, a 15th-century B.C. ancestor of King Tut who wrested power from her stepson, controlled Egypt and had evidence of her reign expunged following her death.
Producer-director Brando Quilici certainly goes the extra mile trying to wring suspense out of the exercise — as the press release pledges, to “bring archaeology alive for viewers.” At one point, there’s even an honest-to-God scream on the soundtrack when a mummified face is revealed.
Sorely lacking, however, is anything approaching a “Rosebud” moment. Moreover, despite the wild-eyed salesmanship by Hawass and the eagerness of Stanford professor Kara Cooney — who joins in attempting to put the pieces together — the final payoff seems relatively mundane in the eyes of a novice.
Discovery has returned more than once to ancient Egypt with various degrees of success, and in his cheerleading for Egyptian antiquities, Hawass has already been infamously associated with Fox’s 1999 special “Opening the Lost Tombs: Live From Egypt,” which amounted to little more than a glorified pyramid scheme (pardon the expression) given what little was revealed — a project compared, with some justification, to Rivera’s over-hyped unveiling of Al Capone’s vault.
In a sense, the tone of Discovery’s “Lost Queen” reflects the difference between PBS and commercial TV, where the pressure to deliver gee-whiz flourishes is heightened. Viewed in the broadest strokes, Hatsheptut’s story is an interesting one, but it’s only going to make archaeology leap off the page for those whose perceptions are grounded in textbooks, not the exploits of Indiana Jones.