Believability can make or break a film. Unless, of course, the film is not meant to be taken seriously. Sahara has that element about it. Are we supposed to believe that the heroes can narrowly escape such close deaths time after time? Not really. Nor are we supposed to believe that the enemy could be so naïve and clumsy. It is meant as entertainment. Some of the greatest action/adventures (The Indiana Jones Trilogy comes to mind) have gone down the same beaten path. Sahara is nowhere near that level, but at times it keeps our attention enough to realize it is… well…what it is.
Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) is a historian and explorer obsessed with finding an Ironclad warship that disappeared hundreds of years ago during the U.S. Civil War. He believes it to be near the country of Mali buried underground by years of geological change. His sidekick, and source of much of the films laughter, is longtime childhood companion Al (Steve Zahn).
While exploring the Niger River, Dirk rescues Eva (Peneleope Cruz) from an assassination attempt. Eva is a doctor investigating a deadly plague that has ravaged much of Mali. With common interests in the area, Eva and Dirk embark on there own separate journeys. First Dirk must convince his boss, Admiral Sandecker (William H. Macy), that the quest is worthy of their time. He obliges by allowing Dirk and Al to take his boat.
Sandecker keeps in touch with Dirk and Al’s escapade by use of phone and radio. He wants them to return immediately, but knows by past experiences that they have no intention of returning without accomplishing what they first set out to do.
Chase scenes reminiscent of an episode of the ‘80s television show "The A-Team" and over-the-top fight scenes similar to "Walker: Texas Ranger" make up a large portion of the film. What makes this acceptable is that the film doesn’t overplay the seriousness of the situations. Instead, it inserts laughter in places where most films would use eerie background music or bogus dialog. Although the film has some intense moments, Director Breck Eisner, is smart enough to accept that Sahara should not attempt to convince rather than entertain.
Dirk and Al get separated from Eva on a few occasions. They get captured and chained to the back of a pickup truck. When they escape we are left pondering the question, "Why doesn’t the truck just turnaround?"
That kind of logic and improprieties are scattered throughout. Many mistakes and flaws tarnish the general acceptance of the film. However, Sahara is stricken with funny moments and good performance all around. McConaughey is very charming and Macy, as Sandecker, is hilarious in his secondary role.
Sahara is occasionally fun, yet predictable on all accounts. Fortunately, the filmmakers recognize the silliness of the story and simply embrace it. This helps make the film just entertaining enough to survive the desert.
The extra features on the Sahara DVD are quite informative. To begin with there are two different commentaries that go along with the film. One is with Director Breck Eisner, while the other is Eisner joined by Matthew McConaughey. Both commentaries can also be used while viewing deleted scenes.
There are only four of these. The first is “Kitty Mannock’s Crash.” This is a battle scene similar to that of the opening sequence. It tells the story of the wrecked war plane that Dirk and Al find in the desert. Eisner explains that it was simply too much information overload for the audience to decipher, thus the reason for nixing the scene. This would also explain why the scene “Finding Kitty Mannock’s Plane” had to be deleted. "Oceanographers Dying in the Desert" is a pointless scene that has McConaughey and Zahn ad-libbing while pulling the truck bed through the desert. The final scene titled, “The Long Kiss” was another ad-libbed moment in which the final battle scene climaxed to McConaughey and Cruz smooching while Zahn watched and made funny hand gestures and motions.
The first of three featurettes included on this single-disc release is “Across the Sands of Sahara.” This is a fifteen minute video packed with cast and crew comments. We also find out how McConaughey landed the part of Dirk, the way he and Zahn formed a friendly bond during the filming, tidbits on stunt performances and the overall vibe behind the making of the film.
“Visualizing Sahara” concentrates on the technical aspects of making the movie. Storyboards are detailed and described, the making of the solar tower near the end of the movie is explained and costume design is outlined in great depth. This lasts around twenty minutes and is very insightful. We also learn the reasoning for the decision to use the wider 2:35:1 screen format.
The last featurette, “Cast and Crew Wrap Film” acts as a music video with highlights of the shooting process and footage of the cast and crew goofing off on set. This nine minutes plus video is less informative than the others, but might be fun to watch if you really care enough about the film for it to matter.
The strange thing about this release is that special features included with it are better than the film. Fans of Clive Cussler will enjoy seeing him placing his input in the filmmaking decisions. Fans of the movie will also be quite pleased with the quality of the special features and the overall visual and sound effects. If you’re at all interested in the film, the extras make Sahara a great buy on DVD.