Today We Learn About: The Incas

The film, “The Incas” gives the viewer a broad overview of the inner-workings and administrative capabilities of the Incan Empire. The documentary covers a variety of topics including the research taking place at Huánuco Pampa, Machu Picchu, and the research of the Incan road system. Archaeologist testimony is paired with photographic and video demonstrations to portray the Incan civilization as incredibly advanced and far reaching, as evident in the broad system of roads present in their empire.

The makers of the documentary, “The Incas” aimed to reveal that this civilization was one of great depth, and that through continued research the world will see that the Incas were so advanced that archaeologists must continue to investigate their culture in order to shed light on some of the more interesting and thought provoking aspects of Incan life. For example, the Incan’s use of rope as a form of record keeping could, at the time of the creation of the documentary, stand to be digested and unraveled quite extensively. Further, the fact that these researchers could learn so much about the cities of the civilization by using such fundamental techniques suggests that the world has much to learn about the life and times of the Inca.

This film portrayed to the viewer in a wonderful manner just how impressive a civilization the Inca were. Through the use of aerial photography, diagrams, and artist interpretations, an amazingly vivid picture of Incan life was painted. The viewer easily found themselves transported into the mind of an Incan, and wondering what it would be like to have such elaborate cities, or such plentiful harvests. It was very impressive to learn that many buildings were dedicated to the storage of foodstuffs, and that while stored in these buildings, the food did not spoil. This was perhaps one of the most impressive aspects of the film; the fact that the viewer was informed of details of Incan life that are rarely ever spoken of, in this case the freeze drying of crops and the manner with which messages were spread across the kingdom. These elaborate systems were quite awe-inspiring, and a gasp could be heard throughout the auditorium at various parts of the film for this exact reason. The Incans used methods, such as freeze-drying, that few ever consider a fifteen hundred year old civilization capable of employing. The film did a wonderful job of conveying the impressive nature of the civilization, and the intricacies that come along with the distinction.

Three aspects of “The Incas” really caused the film to fall short of perfect. First and foremost is the age of the film. It is understood that the wealth of knowledge, and broad brush strokes of the film have yet to be matched in a single new documentary, but the fact that the film is almost thirty years old exposes a fatal flaw. The viewer is left wondering where the current research lies, that is, how much has been reconstructed and found out by these archaeologists. It is fascinating to learn of the advances in research, but quite frustrating to be left completely in the dark as to the current state of these projects.  The second aspect that holds the film back is the poor cinematography. The views and sights associated with the places visited are some of the most breathtaking sights on earth, however the viewer is robbed of the full experience when video is shot in a shaking truck, and not the gorgeous mountain terrain, for example. Had the filmmakers taken some time to line themselves up with better shots, the film would have come out much better. Lastly,  “The Incas” attempted a little too hard to impress the viewer with the grandeur of the Incan civilization. The viewer does not need to be sold when the product is so strong, but the filmmakers really went to great lengths to suggest that the civilization was mystical in a way. A perfect example of this would be near the end of the film, when the researcher would find an artifact fragment, and the film would cutaway to a close-up of a complete artifact with mystical flute sounds in the background. Not only did this give the impression that the filmmakers were trying too hard, but it also made the film seem cheesy.

“The Incas” is a valuable tool for teaching and understanding the history of the Incas, even with its shortcomings; the main point is still easily understood. The viewer leaves the film with a broader respect and understanding for the civilization. There are certainly speed bumps along the way, but as a whole the mission of clearly communicating the worth behind Incan research is most definitely a success, and the film as a whole conveys this message beautifully.


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