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SAHARA

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Steve Zahn, Penelope Cruz, Lambert Wilson, Glynn Turman, Delroy Lindo, William H. Macy
Director: Breck Eisner
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Paramount
Features: See Review
Length: 123 Minutes
Release Date: August 30, 2005

“THERE’S NO WAY THAT SHOULD’VE WORKED.”

Film *** (On the Adventure/Escapism Scale)

Certain movies must be viewed from a certain angle, and to enjoy a movie like Sahara, checking your brain at the door and suspending all disbelief is the first couple of steps that must be taken. If you go into this movie expecting anything resembling a believably structured plot or any type of realism in general, you’re in trouble.

This is mindless, popcorn-adventure entertainment at its highest, and quite possibly the best movie of its kind since the Indiana Jones movies. Many adventure movies over the years have been similarly compared, but Sahara is one movie that truly deserves the comparison. This is clearly a production, and a most expensive one at that, where a lot of effort was put in to make sure the audience got their money’s worth.

Here goes a plot description, and I hope I get everything down because there’s a lot to explain.

The movie opens in on the siege of Richmond during the Civil War. A general oversees the loading of boxes containing mysterious items on board the monstrous ironclad ship known as The Texas, a ship built with such high level steel that fired cannonballs bounce right off it. The ship sails down a foggy landscape, and we then shift to present time.

In Nigeria, a mysterious illness is claiming the lives of many. Two scientists are sent in to investigate the cause of the illness. One of the doctors, Eva Rojas (Peneolpe Cruz), is soon saved by a heroic figure after being attacked by a group of men. The heroic man explorer extrordinare is Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey).

Pitt, a former Navy SEAL, and his lifelong sidekick Al Giordino (Steve Zahn), are representatives of NUMA, a government funded organization which digs up historic artifacts and houses them in museums. When Dirk convinces his uptight boss, Sandecker (William H. Macy), about the possibility of buried treasure somewhere in Nigeria, he is given 72 hours to find it. If he fails, he has agreed never to mention it again.

How is he convinced that there may be a buried treasure? A confederate coin has come into his possession through connections in Africa. It’s a rare confederate coin that has never been issued, thus leaving Dirk to believe that there is more to be found in Nigeria.

As the expedition grows further, Dr. Rojas, who just happens to be along for the ride, comes to discover that the mysterious illness is coming from toxic waste being dump in wells across Africa. Dirk and Al soon learn that there is a huge waste disposal plant that uses solar energy to incinerate the waste, with a rich and evil industrialist behind it all, who is in cahoots with a menacing African warlord who has slaves working at the plant, and is clearly getting rich off the poisoning.

To make everything worse, it is revealed that if the waste reaches the Atlantic Ocean, all life on the planet will be destroyed. With no help from the U.S. Ambassador, our boys are the only ones who can save the day.

So as you can see, the plot of Sahara comes very close to making no sense whatsoever, but does that even begin to make the movie bad? No, because the entertainment value of Sahara is extraordinarily high, thanks to a strong pacing, the charisma of the lead actors and the audacious action sequences that occupy a great deal of the movie’s running length.

And let’s talk about the action scenes, because they are wonderfully executed and have the ability to marvel, and even better, they are done the old fashioned way just like it was done back in Raiders of the Lost Ark. There’s an outlandish boat chase that’s both thrilling and funny, as Dirk leaps from boat to boat to knock out baddies before leaping to the other boat. With two boats approaching, Dirk and Al agree to execute a Panama, which I will leave for you to see for yourself. The explanation for the term Panama is one of the funniest gags in the movie.

And the action just keeps getting bigger as the movie goes on. Dirk has an intense fist fight with a goon on top of lengthy tower, from which our hero finds himself dangling. The biggest bang, no pun intended, is the climatic sequence where Dirk duels with a helicopter by way of a 150 year old cannon. How he got to using it is another piece of info I’ll leave for you to discover.

So in short, Sahara is everything one could ask for in a mindless action adventure flick. Matthew McConaughey, who really bulked up for this role, makes a most competent action hero in Dirk Pitt, who’s the hero in a series of novels by Clive Cussler, so a franchise maybe in the works. Steve Zahn is one again hysterical as the put upon sidekick, and Penelope Cruz pulls off the beautiful damsel in distress with flying colors.

Sahara is nothing but fun movie escapism, and, despite the PG-13 rating, is actually a good choice for the whole family.

Video ****

Paramount ushers in top notch work yet again with this fantastic looking presentation. The anamorphic picture (Full Screen available separately) is nothing short of stunning in the way it makes the large scale production seem ultimately real. Africa has never looked more exquisite. Image clarity is strong and clear, and colors are marvelous, as well. A wonderfully detailed presentation!

Audio ****

This action spectacle helps to boast one of the biggest bangs a single 5.1 mix has ever given. The sound performance on this disc is purely astonishing right from scene one and it just gets more fast and furious as the movie progresses. Dialogue is superbly clear, and Clint Mansell’s James Bond-like music score is powerfully delivered. This year has given many great sounding discs, and this is very much at the top of the list.

Features ****

A grand little package from Paramount, which includes 2 commentary tracks; one with director Breck Eisner, the second with Eisner and Matthew McConaughey, which was a most fun listen filled with insight of what went into this production. Also included are 3 well made featurettes, “Across the Sands of Sahara”, “Visualizing Sahara” and “Cast and Crew Film Wrap”. Lastly, there are deleted scenes with optional commentary and bonus previews.

Summary:

What a ride Sahara is! It’s everything a high energy adventure movie should be, with ballsy action and a quick wit to go along with it. Buckle up with Mr. McConaughey and co. for a furiously fun and entertaining adventure ride.

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