Sahara (HD DVD)

January 28, 2012 8 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

In order to bring the character of Dirk Pitt to the screen Actor/Producer Matthew McConaughey had to do a lot of campaigning. Based on the novel by Clive Cussler, who has authored “Raise the Titanic”, “Sahara” had a troubled course to the silver screen. Many actors had, at one time or another, been attached to play the enigmatic and charismatic Dirk Pitt, everyone from Hugh Jackman to Tom Cruise. The trouble with bringing the novel to screen was that it was a tough one to sell. Essentially it’s a bit of Indiana Jones mixed with a bit of James Bond and it takes place in the dessert. As one user on the Internet Movie Database quoted “When I think of the Sahara desert I think dry, boring, predictable and death by dehydration.” A good point, but I think the filmmakers did a good job of making the film enjoyable for all. All that aside “Sahara” was just what the movies needed this Spring from an onslaught of predictable and boring romantic comedies (except “Hitch” which was genuinely enjoyable).

Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) and his lifelong friend Al (Steve Zahn) have grown up together, gone to college together and experienced the Navy together. The opening credits, which are pretty fun to watch again and again I might add, show their friendship through all of these events and set the stage for what’s to come. The two now work for an independent contractor of sorts, led by former Naval Admiral Jim Sandecker (William H. Macy). They go gallivanting around the world collecting and refurbishing lost treasures for independent collectors or for museums. On his off time, Pitt is searching for a lost Civil War battleship that disappeared some 150 years earlier without so much as a whisper. Their latest travels have led them to Africa (coincidentally enough where the Sahara dessert is…get it) where Dirk meets WHO doctor Eva Rojas (Penelope Cruz). It seems that there is a plague that’s killing citizens in towns and Eva and her partner are trying to get to the bottom of it. Naturally there’s a more sinister force at work and if the truth were to get out, well…it wouldn’t be good. Dodging bullets and exploding boats left and right, Dirk, Al and Eva try and outrun the bad guys all the while with smiles on their faces…

I have to admit that I really enjoyed “Sahara”. It has the makings of a franchise if it’s marketed correctly (and it shows it’ll make money for Paramount). The cast seemed to have a good time making the movie and though not as good as any of the “Raiders” movies, it’s certainly entertaining enough to keep an audiences’ attention. That’s optimism talking; of course, as the budget for the movie far outweighed the domestic gross but hey…it’s Hollywood for cryin’ out loud! Amid the pre-Summer blockbuster there was “Sahara” and though not as high-profile as others out there, I for one found it entertaining. The DVD has enough supplements to warrant a purchase and, at the very least a rental.

Video: How does it look?

According to my original review of this title, I gave it a rating of 4.5 which would be on par with other movies of this stature/genre. After I put the HD-DVD version in the player, however – oh my. I noticed details that I hadn’t even thought about in the standard DVD version. You can read the print on money (coins) and make out the stickers on the laptop they use. It’s little things like that that really heighten the viewing experience. Naturally, everything that stood out about the transfer remains intact here. The 2.40:1 HD image is simply glorious and any evidence of edge enhancement is right out the window. Essentially, take a top notch DVD transfer and improve upon it and you’ve got “Sahara”.

Audio: How does it sound?

The Dolby Digital Plus soundtrack associated with HD-DVD’s is supposed to be fuller and richer (read: better) than their Dolby Digital 5.1 counterparts and on a few select titles I could tell somewhat of a difference. However during my viewing of “Sahara”, it’s the first time when I really could tell a major difference between the Dolby 5.1 track and this new Dolby Digital Plus track. The difference was so much that I actually got out the standard DVD and did a comparison and sure enough, I was right (I have to justify calling myself the “Authortity” on occasion). There is much more depth in many of the scenes and even the dialogue seems to have a richer feel to it. Don’t get me wrong, however, the Dolby Digital 5.1 track on the standard DVD does sound good, but like the video – this is just the best way to hear it.

Supplements: What are the extras?

The HD-DVD of “Sahara” comes equipped with just enough supplements to warrant a purchase (for avid fans) or if you’re a renter, you’d get your money’s worth with this one. First up is a pair of commentary tracks by Breck Eisner and Actor/Producer Matthew McConaughey. Eisner is on the first one and though he’s fairly knowledgeable, it’s a rather dull track. He teams up with McConaughey on the second track for a more conversational track – this is the one I’d listen to and I feel the first one should even be stricken from the disc. Three featurettes are included: “Across the Sands” which is, essentially, an EPK that shows us some behind the scenes footage from the movie. It runs about fifteen minutes and doesn’t give us a whole lot of information. Next up is a twenty minute feature: “Visualizing ‘Sahara’”. This was a lot more informative than the other one, namely because there is just a wealth of more interesting tidbits here and there. If you’re into the look of films, this is for you. A cast and crew wrap party is also shown, with some outtakes, nothing too exciting but it’s there if you want it. Four deleted scenes are also included; they are shown in non-anamorphic widescreen and available with or without commentary by McConaughey and Eisner. That’s about it and while “Sahara” might not be the best movie around, I found it fun and breezy – certainly something to keep you entertained for a couple of hours…

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