Review of Rome: What Lies Beneath (2013)

Moving picture, 89 minutes

Seen in 2018.

Sarah Parcak and the use of space-based imaging in the archaeology of ancient Portus, Romania and Tunisia.

There’s about 45 minutes of good historical content in this documentary. The rest of the running time is wasted on repulsively poor filmmaking. The subjects are intercut for no good reason. The narrator sounds like he’s popping his eyes out trying to inject every shot with drama, high stakes, heroism and gravitas. There’s a whole sequence where Parcak goes jogging for exercise, so the audience can get to know her better. Mary Beard does not go jogging in her films because she knows her audience is there for the history.

The poor presentation here must be against Parcak’s better judgement, particularly the scene where she and a senior colleague have to pretend that her findings are being projected onto an ancient stone wall, something director Louise Bray evidently planned and failed to add in postproduction. I suppose the director was shocked to realize that Parcak works by looking at a laptop, unlike Indiana Jones. I surmise that she believed nothing you do on a computer can be explained in an interesting way, so she attempted to make a spy thriller on a shoestring budget and only got as far as the soundtrack.

There are many far more substantial interviews with Parcak, including Rob Reid’s.

moving picture non-fiction