It’s hard to find fault in anything shown on the third largest screen in the world, but Journey to Mecca: In the footsteps of Ibn Battuta, currently screening at IMAX, doesn’t quite deserve the big-screen treatment. Previously shown at the Melbourne International Film Festival, the film is a half documentary, half re-enactment of one of the world’s greater, albeit more unknown, travellers.
Ibn Battuta, according to the film, starts off as a 21-year-old law student following a dream to travel from Morocco to Mecca by any means necessary. A somewhat arrogant and proud young man, his journey transforms him into an enlightened and generous soul, full of knowledge and humility. Apparently. Unfortunately the film only runs for 45 minutes, leaving you without much of a sense of what Battuta actually learns from his travels.
Designed for school groups, the film is set in both Battuta’s time – the 14th Century – and the present day, and draws parallels between the two times. It is based upon his famous travel journals, from which it quotes directly, but ends up being far more informative than it is entertaining. If you are hoping for an Islamic, crusade type action film, maybe try something else, because Journey to Mecca: In the footsteps of Ibn Battuta is pure light education.
The film doesn’t delve particularly deeply into religion and barely scrapes the surface of traditions such as the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. Instead it leaves you wanting to Google “Ibn Battuta” on your phone as you leave the cinema.
Ironically, the point of most interest comes at the end of the film, when the audience is informed Battuta travelled three times further than Marco Polo, and his travels across Africa, India and China (to name a few) spanned thirty years. His reward? His memory lives on, as a crater on the moon is named after him.
The cinematography of Journey to Mecca: In the footsteps of Ibn Battuta is incredible, with shots of beautiful African scenery enhanced on IMAX’s enormous screen. The film manages to display parts of the world seemingly preserved in time, untouched by the modern world. This is what truly brings Battuta’s story alive.
The use of present day footage of Mecca is inspiring. Showing hundreds of pilgrims on their own contemporary Hajj, it is hard not to be overwhelmed by how strong these 1,400 year old traditions and rituals are. More awe-inspiring than emotional or entertaining, Journey to Mecca: In the footsteps of Ibn Battuta makes you feel very small, in a big, beautiful and timeless world.