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Overall Rating
3.06

Awesome: 6.74%
Worth A Look: 29.21%
Just Average37.08%
Pretty Crappy: 16.85%
Sucks: 10.11%

8 reviews, 41 user ratings


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Sahara
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by Jay Seaver

"No masterpiece, but closer to that than to 'Raise the Titanic'."
4 stars

I have to admit, I had mixed feelings when I first read the stories about Clive Cussler being upset with how this movie's producers were treating his story. On the one hand, you never really want to hear about a creator's wishes being disrespected, especially in a situation like this, where Cussler was so burned by the last movie adaptation of one of his novels (that "Raise the Titanic" movie really was ghastly) that he swore Hollywood off for two decades. But the thing is... This is "Sahara" we're talking about. It's roughly where I stopped picking Cussler's new novels up in hardcover and started looking at paperbacks and remainders; it's not a great book. As it turns out, a little "disrespect" probably made for a better movie.

The plot certainly follows the Dirk Pitt adventure template. Open with an action scene set sometime in the past, in this case a Confederate ironclad setting sail just before the end of the Civil War; give us a reminder of Dirk Pitt's past adventures, such as the newspaper clippings that litter his office; and set up two plots. In one, Pitt (Matthew McConaughey) will be taking part in an undersea salvage or scientific expedition along with his colleagues at NUMA (National Underwater and Marine Association), Al Giordino (Steve Zahn), Rudi Gunn (Rainn Wilson), and the organization's head, Admiral James Sandecker (William H. Macy). In the other, a more immediate problem will be uncovered by a pretty girl (in this case, Penelope Cruz as UN doctor Eva Rojas), who is rescued from a violent end by Pitt. They agree to help each other out, and go their separate ways until their paths cross just before the big action finale.

It's formula, but that doesn't make them bad books or potential movies. The books have suffered in the past few years the same way a lot of series, in any medium, suffer after a while: The author feels the need to top the last episode each time and runs into problems of scale, both in the nature of the plot and the size of the work; continuity becomes an issue; attempts to replicate what worked before make the stories seem rote; and the author sometimes simply passes his prime (Cussler is in his seventies, and co-wrote the most recent Pitt novel with his son). The books have more or less run the formula into the ground, but with a little streamlining, these stories would translate well to film.

Thankfully, there's quite a bit of streamlining. As unlikely as this movie's faux-history is, and it involves a missing Confederate warship crossing the Atlantic only to come to rest in the middle of the Sahara, the book's was even stranger (it carried a kidnapped Abraham Lincoln; the assassination story was part of a cover-up. I'm not kidding). A couple of recurring characters have been dropped, and if Pitt and Giordino seem to get awful lucky at some points in the movie, trust me, it's actually an improvement on the magic-tech, private library that contains all maritime information ever, and author flat-out inserting himself into the story to tell his protagonists what to do that the latter books have featured. Running jokes that show up throughout the books are also omitted, along with a fair amount of procedural detail on diving or other technical activities.

A bigger problem for Cussler, and many of the stories' fans, may be characterization. Or casting, but the two pretty much go hand-in-hand. Quite frankly, McConaughey, Zahn, and Macy aren't close to how I imagined Pitt, Giordino, and Sandecker at all. They are, to a man, more relaxed than the characters in the books. Cussler spends a lot of time describing Pitt's sea-weathered face and piercing green eyes, painting Giordino as solid and physically imposing despite his short stature, and giving Sandecker an almost cartoonish appearance despite his intense drive. The guys we see on-screen are as thoroughly competent as the ones on the page, but they banter instead of growling at each other. There's an argument to be made that these aren't Cussler's characters. But they're good characters. They're fun to watch, and I'll honestly admit that I feel their easy camaraderie much more than I ever did in the books, no matter how often Cussler would tell us it was there.

So the tone of the production is different, more light-hearted adventure than nail-biting techno-thriller. And, as light adventure goes, it's pretty good. It establishes high stakes without making the situation so real and dangerous that characters cracking wise would be distasteful. It gives us characters whose motivations and personalities are easily grasped, but mostly have enough life to them that they feel like they could exist beyond the scope of this story. It feeds us a steady diet of action set-pieces, none of which are especially groundbreaking or spectacular, but which are entertaining while we're watching them.

Pretty much everyone involved delivers a solid effort. The cast is full of solid second-tier guys, with McConaughey being charming and being upstaged by sidekicks Steve Zahn and Rainn Wilson because that's what good sidekicks do, and Steve Zahn is one of the best second bananas you could ask for. Macy could do this job with one hand tied behind his back, if necessary, and delivers his harried-boss lines with aplomb. Cruz is good enough as the girl, as are Lennie James and Lambert Wilson as the villains. Director Breck Eisner and the four credited screenwriters do a good job of telling their story and staying out of the way.

Everyone involved (except, apparently, Cussler) is probably hoping for a franchise. That wouldn't be a bad thing; having made a decent movie out of a mediocre book like "Sahara", I'd be interested to see what they could do with one of the better ones (like "Treasure"...please).

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11922&reviewer=371
originally posted: 05/24/05 21:58:04
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User Comments

1/08/12 Gianluca Entertaining and amusing. Stupid, but funny. 3 stars
11/23/10 chris. good movie if you don't want to think hard, in a good way--fun! 4 stars
8/02/10 reptilesni Super fun film . If you don't think too hard, you'll enjoy it very much. 4 stars
9/17/09 Jeff Wilder Ridiculous. But a lot of fun. 3 stars
12/29/08 DanO Entertaining--It is not super flick--yet it is enjoyable. 4 stars
6/15/08 PAUL SHORTT VAPID, LENGHTY AND MOSTLY LIFELESS 2 stars
10/26/07 RoC Not a great film but entertaining enough 4 stars
10/03/07 Savanna i love the movie!! 5 stars
1/23/07 Matt Poorly cast, but otherwise enjoyable popcorn nonsense. Lighten up! 4 stars
10/05/06 Booksworm Come on people, what the hell more do you want? It's adventure! 5 stars
9/26/06 Damon Adventure movies can be good. Or they can be like this. 1 stars
3/09/06 Dk Cool film. Enough said 4 stars
10/12/05 eddiejohns McConaughey should never try to be an adventurer again. I wasn't convinced. 1 stars
10/03/05 Aldo nothing special...characters were pretty boring 3 stars
9/15/05 Phil M. Aficionado Slick, rich looking, glib, all-out, contrived, but well-made whackion flick. 3 stars
9/14/05 Tom Burns A good adventure film. It reminded me of the Indiana Jones movies a little. 4 stars
9/14/05 Pinkline Jones McConaughey worst actor since Quentin 1 stars
8/29/05 ES Becasue of this movie I will never, ever pick up the novels, couldn't have been worse 1 stars
8/22/05 Jason Eldred Clive Cusslers Awesome Novels are best left on paper and not to be ruined on film like this 1 stars
7/10/05 Heather Pruplethorne Well, Laura Kyle, it is MUCH MUCH better than RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK! 5 stars
7/07/05 Donna Gelpigi Running to escape Tuaregs before they hatch into Tuars. 4 stars
5/31/05 jcjs fun, no brainer, entertainment, 007 with Indiana Jones 4 stars
5/29/05 Jake Horrible! I walked out of the theater 30 minutes into it! 1 stars
5/09/05 Carol ok 3 stars
4/23/05 Quigley poor Matthew McConaughey! its action is so fake and overplayed and becomes total crap. 1 stars
4/20/05 Krisan not as good as i expected from Matthew, but better than i expected from Penelope 4 stars
4/19/05 Aaron Smith Only slightly entertaining. Liked ironclad story better than disease/warlord plot. 3 stars
4/18/05 CoralSnake I fell asleep. 1 stars
4/18/05 Maria Hau I want to see it what has got in Africa (Tanzanian). 5 stars
4/17/05 Bones McCoy Loads of fun 5 stars
4/17/05 Lord Jiggy Competent, if uninspired fun. Anybody catch the brassy Bond riff in the soundtrack? 4 stars
4/16/05 Roy Smith Cinematic Tranquilizer. Do not operate heavy machinery under it's effects. 2 stars
4/14/05 Marilyn very bland, could guess ending 3 stars
4/12/05 Time Waster What? 1 stars
4/12/05 KingNeutron Thoroughly improbable, but tremendous fun. Zahn as a SEAL though? Not! 4 stars
4/10/05 Sarah Wittenauer (i have read many cussler books), Rudi and Al werent supposed to look that way... 4 stars
4/10/05 Bing Best movie of the year 5 stars
4/10/05 Naka How the HELL is this something different? We've seen it 1000 times before... 2 stars
4/09/05 Witch-King Not bad - something different! 4 stars
4/09/05 Agent Sands Wow. I was so impressed. Not. 3 stars
4/08/05 Denise okay 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  08-Apr-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 30-Aug-2005

UK
  N/A

Australia
  07-Apr-2005




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