Everything about Sahara screams massive scale movie entertainment. The story is goofy, the action implausible, the romance predictable, and the characters are generic. What Sahara does is take those elements and combine them for a wild, adventurous ride with all of the trappings of a modern action epic.
No one will mistake Sahara for its brains. The story goes from a search for a lost Civil War boat, to a growing plague, to African militants, to global pollution, and finally back to the starting point with the boat. Somehow, it’s all written so that in terms of the setting and characters, it all makes sense.
Starting the positives is a great cast. Everyone looks great, from Penelope Cruz to Matthew McConaughey. They strut their stuff around the set, spouting one-liners and managing to survive under absurd circumstances. Steve Zahn is the show stealer though, taking on the role of witty sidekick with an immensely likable personality that fits right into the film.
Action scenes never feel small in scale, and the kinetic direction, along with superb choreography, makes them all memorable. There are a few too many moments where the enemies are simply terrible shots and miss the leads at almost point blank range. The finale also puts the characters in an unwinnable situation, and it takes a monumental leap of faith for the audience to buy it.
Regardless of the sheer stupidity or clunky storytelling, there’s no denying this movie is flat out fun. The varied locations, wonderful pacing, excellent side characters, the cutthroat villain, and hilarious comedy put Sahara close to the top in terms of other movies in this goofy, lighthearted adventure genre.
Sahara uses a beautiful bright pastel color scheme that simply shines in HD. It’s impossible to look away as the film moves on, with the razor sharp transfer sporting high levels of detail in faces and locations. Deep blacks and high contrasting whites create immense levels of depth. The movie was shot in gorgeous fashion, and the HD transfer is impeccable in keeping its style.
Loads of action means there’s always something to discuss when it comes to the audio. The opening sequence, which takes place during the Civil War, delivers everything, from the thick bass of cannon fire to explosions filling all five speakers. Every action scene to follow delivers the same intensity. Non-action scenes deliver a decent array of ambient effects, including an early scene at a party in which the crowd creates an enveloping layer of audio.
It’s worth noting that the standard 5.1 mix and DTS tracks included on this disc have significant differences. The 5.1 is noticeably quieter, with dialogue coming off muffled, and the bass lacking a clean edge. DTS is the only option you should be selecting.
Two commentaries feature director Breck Eisner. The first has him going into the movie solo, and in the second, he’s joined by McConaughey. The rest of the features take on a nice, refreshing documentary style.
Visualizing Sahara is a 20 minute piece loaded with behind-the-scenes footage. Cast and Crew Wrap Up Film gives everyone a chance to speak on the shoot for a total of 10 minutes. Across the Sands of Sahara runs for 15 minutes, and looks at the locations and difficulties of shooting there.
Four deleted scenes offer little of value during their five minutes of DVD time. Camel Chase is a short featurette on (duh) the camel chase. Animatics and storyboard comparisons offer a nice look at the pre-vis process, while trailers end the features set as they usually do.
Since its release, the author of the book on which Sahara was based has been in a bitter legal fight with Paramount. Like his previous novel Raise the Titanic, which was turned into a (butchered) movie, he believes the studio failed to live up to their contract by hiring outside writers and eliminating much of the story. The studio fights back claiming he inflated the budget and sabotaged the production. Ouch.