Sahara Review

If James Cameron's Titanic taught us anything it's that the ship is not in one piece on the floor of the Atlantic ocean. Similarly, it's not like there's any one reason why Raise The Titanic is flawed but, in hindsight, it does look rather odd that not only does the hero of the film, Dirk Pitt find the Titanic and raise it as per the title but he then sails it into the harbour in New York allowing it to complete its maiden voyage. Try watching it post-Titanic and imagine Dirk Pitt atop the forward section whilst the stern bobs along in his wake.

Actually, you needn't watch Raise The Titanic at all, which may well come as a blessed relief to most of you, as, thanks to Sahara, Pitt is back. Granted, a quarter of a century has passed since he was last seen, standing in a graveyard in England, but Sahara throws him into the mouth of the Niger river where he makes a roaring entrance attacking a gang of Malian thugs, appearing rather more dashing than how Richard Jordan saw him in 1980. Indeed, this early scene in the film sets the entire tone of what is to follow, in which a tale of corruption and pollution bubbles under a thoroughly entertaining romp across west Africa, similar to how Bond battled megalomaniacs against the backdrop of the cold war.

Whilst a civil war erupts sporadically about them in west Africa, the World Health Organisation, represented by Eva Rojas (Penelope Cruz) and Frank Hopper (Glynn Turman) battle against a plague that appears to be centred around the Niger river. Elsewhere in Nigeria, NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Agency), run by Admiral Jim Sandecker (William H. Macy) are treasure hunting at the mouth of the Niger river when Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey), who appears to be a star of the NUMA show, comes upon a rare confederacy dollar. Connecting this to an iron-clad battle ship that sailed out of the Civil War-era United States towards, legend has it, Africa, Pitt alongside colleagues Al Giordino (Steve Zahn) and Rudi Gunn (Rainn Wilson) convince Sandecker to let them have his speedboat for a sortie upriver into Mali to check out the legend. When Rojas and Hopper hear about the trip, they ask to come along to investigate the spread of the plague and to determine its origins, which leads all of them into a fight against a corrupt African dictator, an opportunistic European businessman and the spread of a contaminant that threatens the entire world...

In his review of Sahara that accompanied the film's theatrical release, Kevin O'Reilly noted that there was something, "pleasingly old school about it [Sahara]" and in that one phrase, he summed up the entire film. Looking back over the last few decades or so, Sahara recalls the Indiana Jones films, National Treasure, the Bond movies but it feels as though it could have been made any time since the thirties. In those terms, all that it's missing is the week in which we'd wonder if Dirk Pitt is going to make it out of the gun battle alive before a return trip to the cinema would resolve the cliffhanger in a suitably outrageous way.

The only real criticisms that I can make against Sahara is that it doesn't have the kind of great background shadow that Bond, Indiana Jones or National Treasure had. African dictators and corrupt businessmen are very bad, I'm sure we'd all agree on that, but as when Bond fought against a lone media tycoon in Tomorrow Never Dies, the result was not as impressive as when he had the Russians as a faceless enemy. Similarly, Temple Of Doom is the least interesting Indiana Jones partly for not having the Nazis to boo and the most thrilling aspect of National Treasure was the shadowy world of the Knights Templar that it offered glimpses of. Sahara really has none of this and whilst it has some basis in fact, what with the fight by the Malian government against a rebellion by the Tuareg tribes, most people in the west will only be aware of it from having inspired the naming of the Volkswagen Touareg.

As the star of the film, McConaughey makes good in a role that should set him up with as much of a future as Raiders Of The Lost Ark did for Harrison Ford or The Bourne Identity did for Matt Damon. Unlike Damon, however, McConaughey looks to be playing it as much for laughs as for thrills and never loses sight of how much enjoyably daft excitement there is to be had from the film. The main plot - the finding of a battleship in the middle of the Sahara - is simply a story on which is hung all manner of action sequences, including a fistfight on top of a solar power plant, a race across the desert on an airplane-cum-landsailer and a climactic battle with cannons and a tank battalion. Each of these would be exciting were they in separate films but, together, they make Sahara great fun.

Elsewhere, Zahn plays off McConaughey without ever vying for the lead role but Cruz is a distracting presence. I have no problem with a female member of the main cast - Eva Rojas balances the Dirk Pitt/Al Giordino balls'n'boffins combo - but Cruz is neither a good actress nor attractive enough and her reading of the medical notes carries as much authority as would an appearance by Jordan in ER.

Finally, what Sahara does very, very well is to make a fine case for not ever wanting to go to west Africa, Like a Mondo Africa but with higher ambitions and a story linking the outrages, Sahara would have you believe that everything you'd ever heard about Africa occurred on a daily basis and that Mali, a real country that borders Algeria, Cote d'Ivoire and Senegal amongst others, is a hotbed of violence against all but the slipperiest of westerners. Odd then that the BBC website concludes that, " Mali remains relatively peaceful." In the end, Sahara feels oddly out of time, not only in its portrayal of a Mali some twenty years out of date but in having McConaughey playing Dirk Pitt as a contemporary of Indiana Jones, Matthew Quigley, Frank Buck and Tales of the Gold Monkey's Jake Cutter, rather than the more troubled Jason Bourne. If you're in the mood for a film that makes you feel smarter than you are but dumber too, for enjoying it, then you will welcome Sahara like a Bond on a Bank Holiday afternoon.


This being a transfer of a 2005 film, it should come as no surprise that it's an excellent transfer, both in terms of the picture and the audio track.

The image is clear throughout, with both colour and sharpness of picture being very good indeed. There is a slight lack of clarity in the desert scenes but, rather than blaming the transfer, I would put this down to a shimmering of the picture that comes with filming in the Sahara.

The sound is excellent, with good use of the subwoofer and surround channels, particularly in the pin-sharp gunshots and ricochets of the gun battle on the Niger river.


Unlike the Region 1, which came with a commentary, three featurettes and deleted scenes, this Region 2 disc comes with no bonus features at all.


There comes a time when a ridiculously exciting movie works like a tonic against more serious fare and, in that sense, Sahara is most welcome. I'm not entirely sure, however, that it's really a DVD that I'd consider buying. Part of it's charm, I'm sure, is like that of Raise The Titanic, which appears occasionally on television and, despite the reputation, is always something of a treat.

Although, if you do intend to buy this DVD, the Region 1 does offer a selection of extras that this Region 2 release does not. My recommendation is, therefore, guarded, both by the nature of the film as well as the knowledge that a better release of it on DVD is just as readily available.

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Last updated: 15/06/2018 06:58:08

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