Beating CBS to the punch, the latest forensic crime clone premieres on National Geographic Channel, with a special that could be christened “CSI: Valley of the Kings.” Using computer mumbo-jumbo and overblown narration to sex up archaeology for the MTV generation, the channel digs up King Tut again for a brisk production that’s still not as much fun as Steve Martin’s tribute to the boy king. For those who can’t wangle tickets to the latest museum tour, at least this qualifies as an inexpensive substitute.
“The story of King Tut is about to change — radically,” the narration promises of this 21st-century approach to grave-robbing that involves sliding Tut’s mummified corpse (by far the coolest moment in the two hours) through a CT scan machine, yielding all kinds of funky 3-D images.
In the interim, the spec features the well-worn Fox tactic of endlessly recapping the story, hypothesizing (with re-creations for the imagination-impaired) how Tut might have died. Was he murdered due to palace intrigue? Slain in battle? Fell off his chariot? Succumbed to boredom, having been forced to watch Nat Geo documentaries?
The answer is neither radical nor especially jaw-dropping, which doesn’t stop archaeologist Dr. Zahi Hawass from periodically getting very big eyes and talking in a highly excited manner, the way an accountant might prattle on if he discovered a way to skirt the alternative minimum tax. We’re happy for you, doc, but it’s hard to share your enthusiasm.
Along the way, viewers are treated to legends about the mummy’s curse and glimpses of old Universal films, providing further insight into the mysterious (again, not really) deaths of those who first excavated the tomb in 1922.
Despite the romance surrounding such Egyptian lore, this will unearth dramatic new ground only for those who have paid scant attention to past explorations of Tut’s tomb. As for the high-tech pictures, nifty as some of them are, they won’t make anyone forget “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” however much Chris Mangum’s eerie score seeks to evoke it.
The most enduring use of such material, inevitably, will come in classrooms, but “King Tut’s Final Secrets” only underscores the cartwheels producers continue to turn in their quest to get younger viewers to willingly enter the museum, crypt or wherever when not a captive audience.
Much as I wanted to like this spec, watching it stirred the feeling that stately old Nat Geo has donned the clothes of a carnival barker to lure rubes into the tent. Give them an “Ankh” for effort, but the sad truth is that even with state-of-the-art effects and gee-whiz flourishes, anyone still being supported by their mummy probably won’t have much interest in this one.