Wookiee Hut Movie Reviews presents:
Sahara
Review by Rosie

Director: Breck Eisner

Creator: Clive Cussler

Starring: Matthew McConaughey, Penelope Cruz, Steve Zahn, William H. Macy

Rating: Imperial Star Destroyer — Popular Crowd Pleaser

Clive Cussler has written numerous books about a fictional government agency, NUMA — National Underwater and Marine Agency — whose members regularly find themselves embroiled in unusual adventures. The main characters of the novels, Dirk Pitt NUMA's Special Projects Director and his sidekick, Al Giordino, have a knack for stumbling onto bizarre plots by criminally insane madmen intent on taking over the world, wreaking ecological disaster, or monopolizing previously undiscovered mineral resources for their own financial gain.

Dirk and Al, although former members of the armed forces, are tenacious about running down the source of whatever is impacting the marine or other underwater research they happen to be involved in when they do stumble, often proving to be tougher than the various Special Forces their boss, Admiral Sandecker (ret.) calls in to back them up. Sandecker is a force to be reckoned with in Washington in Cussler's world and can almost always get what he wants no matter who sits in the Oval Office.

Thanks to Sandecker's status, NUMA is extremely well funded and the government has had NUMA and particularly Dirk and Al, to be thankful for when they foil these insane schemes. Dirk, like Cussler himself, is an avid classic car collector and somehow during the course of most of his adventures comes across some sort of amazing classic car that he ends up acquiring by the end of the story; or if not a car, then a plane (he is an Air Force pilot early in the series) or the club car of a passenger train, or even a cast iron bathtub with an outboard motor.

Never mind ... That would take too long to explain.

Cussler always sets up his story with an episode in the past that relates to the adventure that Dirk and Al will find themselves in in the present and always involves the criminal madmen too.

In the movie Sahara, the setup in the past is a huge horde of Confederate gold that is being loaded onto an ironclad ship, the CSS Texas, which is to slip through the Union blockade and transport the gold to a neutral port where it can be used to finance a Confederate government in exile. The Texas manages to make it past the blockade, but disappears into the fog and out of the pages of naval history.

In the present, Admiral Sandecker (William H. Macy) is the head of a privately funded NUMA. An organization dedicated oceanographic research encompassing mineralogical exploration and environmental protection as well as recovering historically significant ships and artifacts from the oceans of the world and presenting them to museums for the benefit of mankind.

At the same time, Dr. Eva Rojas (Penelope Cruz) and her team of World Health Organization doctors and scientists are tracking the cause of an outbreak of a very virulent disease. Her efforts threaten the security of a highly illegal toxic waste dump operation in Mali, a West African country ruled by a military dictator, General Kazim, in cahoots with a French businessman, Yves Massarde. They attempt to assassinate her, but the assasins are foiled by Dirk Pitt who shows up at the most opportune time.

NUMA is asked to investigate the source of a chemical agent in the water of the Niger River that is causing an uncontrolled rise in the bloom of Red Tide off the coast of Africa that threatens to destroy the world's oxygen and kill off every living thing on the planet in a matter of months if it can't be stopped. Eventually Dirk Pitt, who is sent in with Al and their colleague Rudi Gunn, and Dr. Rojas realize that they're working on the same problem from opposite directions.

They have numerous run-ins with Kazim and Massarde, including a wild chase up the Niger River, a cruise across the desert in a land yacht cobbled together from a small plane that crashed, and a climactic battle between Kazim's forces and Pitt's trio holed up in the Texas.

The plot minus some details that would be too difficult to explain on film follows Cussler's book pretty well. So the movie is entertaining enough, but as a fan of the book series, I found it slightly disappointing. I think my main objection was the acting. William H. Macy as Sandecker was okay, but not as fiery as he is described in the novels. Matthew McConaughey resembled my mental picture of Dirk Pitt well enough, but his portrayal was too casual. Pitt in the novels has an intensity that McConaughey just did not pull off. He played the role a little too lackadaisical for lack of a better term.

As for Al Giordino ... TOTALLY wrong. Steve Zahn is great as a sidekick, but he looked nothing like the character described in the novels. He also seemed to be a little dense. In the books, he "plays" the part of the dim sidekick, but the reader knows he is highly intelligent and just as doggedly committed to finishing the job — whatever it is — as Pitt. He does provide a few comic moments in the film though.

I have to say, that for all its faults, this translation to the silver screen of a Dirk Pitt adventure is much MUCH better than the last one. The last novel Cussler gave his approval to make into a movie for was Raise the Titanic in 1980 starring Jason Robards and Richard Jordan. It was TERRIBLE! Cussler vowed never to let another book of his to be made into a movie. McConaughey is a real Cussler and Dirk Pitt fan and pursued the rights to Sahara doggedly.

All in all, I did enjoy the movie and I will add it to my collection when it comes out on DVD. Indiana Jones and James Bond it ain't, but still quite entertaining. I hope it does become a series ...



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