Sci-Fi's Obsession with Ancient Egypt
Pyramids, aliens, spaceships and gods - facts, fiction, and a whole lot of fun.
At first it sounds contradictory; isn’t science fiction all about what the future holds? But in looking back to a time before toothbrushes and iPads and breakfast cereal, you can get really philosophical without all the minutia that threatens to dominate life today. (Notice that I said you can, not that you have to - some of these films are just here to have fun.) If you love Ancient Egypt AND aliens and spaceships and futuristic weapons, now you can have both in one magical sandy pyramid-shaped package.
I’ve been completely obsessed with Ancient Egypt since I was about five years old and watched the ReadingRainbow episode where Levar Burton reads Aliki’s MummiesMadeinEgypt. Was I terrified they were going to pop out of every closet in my house afterward? Yes. Did I then devour every book on ancient Egypt I could find, including Mara, DaughteroftheNile, TheEgyptGame, and a fictional account of HisMajesty, QueenHatshepsut? (Feminists take note: Hatshepsut makes Lena Dunham look like June Cleaver.) Do I still want to be an ancient Egyptian princess? Definitely yes to that one too. And when it comes to science fiction, some screenwriters are no less obsessed than I. Who can forget Stargate, in which a secret military team travels to another planet where the costumes, the setting, and even the villain are all straight out of Ancient Egypt and everyone worships Ra? Conveniently, James Spader is a nerdy scientist who just happens to be able to speak the language, suddenly making him a whole lot cooler. Bonus, the romance between James Spader and Mili Avital is the most beautiful thing ever and don’t you dare argue with me if they’re not your OTP too. Also I forgot to like Kurt Russell, sorrynotsorry, it’s just that I like nerdy scientists more.
Sands of Oblivion
There’s a story famous among film nuts everywhere about TheTenCommandments: after Cecil B. DeMille finished his epic film, he took a bulldozer and rammed all of the sets into the California desert and walked away. Some attribute this to a cursed artifact he wanted to bury; others note his inability to store a whopping huge-like-never-before set and desire to prevent other filmmakers from swooping in and filming on said set before TheTenCommandments was released. Obviously, the first reason is way more exciting and obvious fodder for a made-for-TV movie, which happened in the form of SandsofOblivion in 2007. Let me be clear: I am not actually recommending you watch this (look at that picture above - if it intrigues you, I guess go ahead, but I did warn you). If not, the movie in a nutshell is: veteran joins disabled grandfather in lifelong dream of digging up DeMille’s set, blah blah unleashed curse, blah blah amulet, evil gods, blah blah hieroglyphs bad acting demonic possession blah blah blah. Anyway, here’s a fascinating fact: After this film was completed in 2007, somebody really did get crazy enough to go dig it all up in 2014, and you can read all about it here. Oh, and as far as I know - no one has been possessed by spirits or cursed or had their arm ripped off by monsters. AS FAR AS I KNOW.
The Fifth Element
Not all of The FifthElement takes place in Ancient Egypt, but the time and place are essential to the story and woven throughout the film. Backstory if you didn’t know: apparently, the Mondoshawn, a quasi-biblical alien race of guardians, take the Fifth Element (a human in a sarcophagus; the other four are just stones representing the elements) from an ancient Egyptian temple in preparation to defeat a great evil threatening the world. They mean to get it back at just the right time, which is 2263. Unfortunately, they tangle with some Mangalores (bad guys) sent by Zorg (really bad guy) and lose most of the Fifth Element (they rescue a hand). They reconstruct it into Leeloo, the orange-haired lady wearing only bandages for the first part of the movie, and she and Bruce Willis go on some awesomely weird adventures through space (“hilarity ensues!”) and eventually end up at the Egyptian temple, find Bilbo Baggins (ok, actually just Ian Holm, but I can’t unsee him as a hobbit), and save the day. You either love it or you hate it, but you can’t deny the magic bizarre thing known as the Diva Dance (you know you want to click that link).
Immortal (Immortel, ad vitam)
Ancient Egypt comes to New York in Immortal, an inventive French science fiction film that defies the boundaries of the genre. On the eve of an election in 2095, the gods have dropped a giant pyramid into the air over the Big Apple and Central Park is now a freezing gateway to another world. But it’s not just the humans who have something to worry about - the falcon-headed deity Horus is in trouble for rebelling and has been offered only a single week to tour the planet before losing his immortality. Horus decides to beget a son before he’s not a god anymore and romance with a mysterious blue-haired woman who may not be entirely human. The whole film, not unlike Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, features live actors on a digital background, and has been characterized as a dystopian cyberpunk sci-fi thriller. Maybe that means it’s not completely fair to judge the film within any one category - critics were harsh, but when you’re this edgy you deserve a little slack. Immortal features fugitives, grisly murders, amnesia, aliens, mutant sharks, transhumanism, a truly strange love triangle, gods and mortals sharing drinks at the same bar, robots, intrigue, and azure tears. It’s been compared toThe Matrix and Blade Runner but it’s pretty clearly got its own identity going on, adapted by Enki Bilal from his comic book The Carnival of Immortals (La Foire aux immortels).
And coming soon....
This soon-to-come HBO TV series by Ridley Scott (Alien, Prometheus, Blade Runner) hasn’t gotten a lot of press since it was announced in 2014, but as far as I know it’s still in the works. Pharaoh will be all about extraterrestrials in Ancient Egypt and their influence on the culture (highly advanced as it was, it’s got to have been aliens doing the thinking, right?). Ok, so at this point, we can tell Ridley Scott is obsessed with aliens, since he already speculated that Jesus could have been one in Prometheus, and we also know he really loves Ancient Egypt, since it was all over the place in Exodus: Gods and Kings. And we’re excited to see him put them together. The show was created by David Schulner, Giannina Facio and Colet Abedi and Ridley Scott is going to direct and produce. If you love watching Ancient Aliens on the History Channel, then chances are that this is going to be your new obsession - when and if it actually happens. If you need a reading assignment to keep you busy in the meantime, check out the legendary Erich von Däniken (a regular on Ancient Aliens) and try Chariots of the Gods and Gods From Outer Space.