Back in July I panned the History Channel’s documentary on the peopling of North America, Journey to 10,000 BC. Their publicist then sent me a recent re-issue of a 2005 film about adventurous archaeologists, The Real Tomb Hunters — Snakes, Curses and Booby Traps. Here are my impressions of that picture.
Real Tomb Hunters, though not a very good documentary, is far better than Journey to 10,000 BC. This is because a) it doesn’t rely on cheezy computer animation, b) it aims much lower, intending only to be exciting, not to present any research results or debates. We get to follow a number of archaeologists through the history of the discipline who have done adventurous fieldwork in exotic locales. (A palaeontologist is also slipped in without special comment. I guess a fossil bed is a kind of tomb if you’re willing to stretch it…)
The film is good edutainment, but has a number of flaws. Most seriously, though the team has been able to travel around the world, they haven’t had enough time on each location, so the same few clips are repeated endlessly and we get a lot of unprovenanced archive footage that also tends to get repeated. Every time the narrator mentions a snake we see the same clip.
Stylistically, the viewer soon tires of the ominous music that is constantly playing in the background, and the narrator sounds like he’s trying to sell something rather than tell a story. In a documentary where almost all the talking heads are men, a female narrator would have provided balance.
For some rousing yarns about real archaeologists hacking through the jungle, crawling into ancient tombs and getting shot at by the militia, the film is not bad at all. But if your main interest is things that happened before about AD 1900, this film is not for you.