An attempt to bring another "Indiana Jones"-style franchise to the screen, "Sahara" ran into trouble when author Clive Cussler (whose novel the film is based on) voiced his displeasure with the picture in the press and strongly distanced himself from the production. The picture stars McConaughey as Dirk Pitt, an archeologist who's followed along by his sidekick, Al (Steve Zahn). The two are part of a larger group searching for a long-lost armored ship that reportedly made it to Africa before vanishing.
Meanwhile, a World Health Organization doctor, Eva Rojas, is nearby, trying to figure out the source of a sickness that is going through the local villages. Rojas gets rescued by Pitt early in the picture from a band of rebels who want to stop her investigation, and the two keep meeting up, eventually joining forces. The three eventually locate the source of the sickness, finding out that a wealthy French industrialist (Lambert Wilson, from the second and third "Matrix" movies and "Catwoman") has been letting toxic waste flow into the local waterways. It all leads up to a fairly standard action sequence at the industrialist's solar power plant.
"Sahara" kicks into gear during a couple of the action sequences, such as a boat chase and the rather ridiculous (but oddly entertaining) battle between an old cannon and an army. Aside from those moments and a few others, the movie often stumbles. The biggest issue is casting, as I think McConaughey has only successfully played an action role once - and that was in "U-571". Here, he's capable, but nothing about the performance stands out. It doesn't help matters that he's a poor fit with both Zahn and, surprisingly, Cruz (off-screen chemistry apparently doesn't equal on-screen chemistry). Zahn's performance seems like he's just a bit tired of these roles (his character actually has to say, "I'll get the bomb, you get the girl."), and Cruz (although admittedly, she's not helped by the script) is entirely unconvincing as a doctor. Delroy Lindo and William H. Macy are entirely wasted in supporting efforts.
Although it begins with an awfully loud battle, "Sahara" soon settles in for a long stretch of rather tedious chatter, which offers some ineffective character development and begins storylines - some of which get lost in the shuffle, anyways. Although I've never read the Cussler book on which the movie is based, it still strongly seemed as if the film's four credited screenwriters had a difficult time compressing the events of the book into a 127-minute picture. The result is a film with a subplot or two too many, and trimming some aspects of the story would have helped this at least be a tighter, more well-paced (as is, it's pretty stop-and-start) picture.
Directed by Breck (son of Michael Eisner) Eisner, the first major directorial effort from the filmmaker is a lot like McConaughey's performance - it's fine enough, but you can't help think about who else could have handled the role better. I'm all for movies like "Sahara", where one can simply get swept up in an adventure. However, "Sahara"'s issues - casting, script, a bit overlong, a bit too much suspension of disbelief, even for something like this - stood out too often throughout.
VIDEO: "Sahara" is presented by Paramount in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, and the presentation is another mostly strong effort from the studio. The picture looked terrific throughout, with excellent sharpness and detail consistently visible. At no time did the picture appear soft or inconsistent.
Unfortunately, one concern derailed the otherwise fine presentation at times, and that was edge enhancement. During several scenes in the film, mild amounts of edge enhancement were noticed, and a bit distracting. Otherwise, there really weren't any concerns, as no shimmering, pixelation or print flaws were seen. The film's rather subdued color palette also looked fine, with no smearing or other concerns.
SOUND: "Sahara" is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1, and the sound design mostly delivers the expected action movie thrills, with instances of deep low bass and aggressive surround use. The opening sequence is a prime example, but the action scenes late in the movie also stand out, as well. The film's classic rock soundtrack was spread nicely across the front soundstage, and dialogue remained crisp and clear throughout.
EXTRAS: The DVD offers two audio commentaries, one from director Breck Eisner and the other from actor/exec producer Matthew McConaughey and Eisner. Both commentaries are really pretty good, as both the solo track and the paired discussion are informative and enjoyable, with the participant(s) discussing technical details, stories from shooting in the rather harsh locations, casting and other production obstacles. One commentary is all most viewers will need, as after listening to one track, the other seems repetitive.
"Across the Sands of Sahara" is a general "making of" featurette, which is actually a little better than these kinds of efforts usually are. In-between some interviews, we get some nice, fly-on-the-wall looks behind-the-scenes, and hear discussion regarding some of the problems that were encountered when shooting in the harsh locations.
"Visualizing Sahara" is a documentary discussing some of the visual decisions that were made during the production, such as some of the cinematography issues and the elements that went into some of the visual effects sequences.
Rounding out the set are the "wrap film" (a short highlight reel of some of the issues that the crew went through), four deleted scenes and previews for other Paramount titles.
Final Thoughts: "Sahara" works as a rainy day rental, but the movie still is rather disappointing. I thought the film seemed miscast, the rhythm seemed off, and the script could have used more work. Paramount's DVD edition is quite nice, however - it offers fine audio/video quality, as well as a solid helping of supplements.
The Film C