Sahara appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though this release came out in the early days of Blu-ray, it held up reasonably well.
Sharpness took a hit, as some shots could seem a little on the soft side. These concerns weren’t major, but I felt the image lacked the consistent delineation I’d like.
I witnessed no issues with jagged edges or moiré effects, and the presentation lacked edge haloes. Print flaws also failed to become a distraction.
As one might anticipate for a modern action movie, the palette went heavily orange and teal. The colors looked appropriately distinctive given the film’s production design.
Blacks were tight and deep, while shadows seemed nicely smooth and accurately delineated. The soft spots made this a decent but unexceptional “B-”.
In terms of audio, the Blu-ray came with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. If the two boasted any obvious differences, I couldn’t discern them, so I thought they seemed very similar.
The film began literally with a bang, as the opening sequence on board the Texas blasted at us with its big guns. This remained the film’s most impressive use of the audio, but plenty of others presented great zest and impact. The boat chase and the climactic helicopter battle stood out as two other especially memorable pieces.
When the soundtrack didn’t assault us, it remained convincing. Music demonstrated good delineation and definition, while effects created a nice sense of place. Quieter scenes didn’t use the surrounds as actively, of course, but they brought out a fine feel for the atmosphere.
Across the board, the movie demonstrated solid audio quality. Speech sounded natural and crisp, with no problems connected to intelligibility or edginess.
Music was bright and bold. The score offered nice dynamics and clarity throughout the film. As expected, effects played the most prominent role, and they always seemed accurate and distinctive.
Bass response was deep and tight, and effects were captured well. I felt pleased with these quality soundtracks.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the original DVD? Audio remained virtually identical. Though the Blu-ray added a DTS 5.1 mix in addition to the same Dolby 5.1 track on the DVD, it lacked a lossless option. That meant I had to ding my audio score, as Blu-ray should always include lossless material.
Visuals offered improvements, as the Blu-ray was cleaner and tighter. It also lost the edge haloes the marred the DVD. Even with some minor drawbacks, the Blu-ray easily bettered the DVD.
The Blu-ray includes the DVD’s extras and adds new ones as well. We start with two separate audio commentaries.
The first presents director Breck Eisner on his own as he provides a running, screen-specific chat. Mostly technical in nature, Eisner covers a lot of nuts and bolts issues here. He talks a lot about locations and connected challenges.
Eisner also gets into sets, visual design and camerawork, music, stunts and effects, the use of various animals, and research/approaches taken by the actors. Occasionally the track drags a little due to the nature of the material, but Eisner usually keeps things peppy and informative.
Happily, Eisner never just narrates the movie, and he makes sure we get a good feel for his decisions and the reasons behind them. I may not like the film, but at least this commentary helps me understand various choices.
For the second commentary, we hear from Eisner and actor/executive producer Matthew McConaughey. Both sit together for their running, screen-specific chat. Much of the time, we hear information similar to that in the other track.
Eisner again talks a lot about sets and locations. However, there’s more of a focus on the work of the actors and the story.
We learn a bit about how the performers dealt with their roles and various physical challenges. We also get some notes about bringing Dirk Pitt to the big screen and adaptation issues along with editing and pacing concerns.
I can’t say that McConaughey brings a lot to the table, especially during the film’s first half. Eisner dominates the track, though McConaughey becomes noticeably more involved in the discussion during the flick’s second hour.
The whole package remains amiable enough, so a little dead air occurs, but not a ton. I do feel we hear too much praise, though.
Eisner avoids that trap in the other discussion, but the pair here often tell us how much they like various elements. The commentary simply lacks a lot of fresh information, as it usually comes across as somewhat redundant after Eisner’s more interesting solo track.
Odd note: I found it tough to figure out which commentary was taped first. Initially I thought Eisner and McConaughey did theirs first, as the director occasionally makes reference to it in his solo chat. However, he also alludes to remarks in that piece during the McConaughey commentary as well, so it’s not clear which came first.
After this we find three separate featurettes. Across the Sands of Sahara runs 15 minutes, one second as it presents interviews with Eisner, McConaughey, producers Stephanie Austin, Karen Baldwin and Mace Neufeld, screenwriter James V. Hart, and actors William H. Macy, Rainn Wilson, Penelope Cruz and Steve Zahn.
We hear about McConaughey’s pursuit of the Dirk role and his take on the part, why he chose to executive produce it, the various characters and casting, shooting stunts and the atmosphere on the set. Inevitably, some material repeats from the commentary, and a fair amount of fluffy happy talk pops up as well. Nonetheless, I like the shots from the set, and we get enough new information to make this show worth a look.
The 20-minute, eight-second Visualizing Sahara includes remarks from Eisner, McConaughey, Austin, Neufeld, Zahn, producer designer Allan Cameron, director of photography Seamus McGarvey, costume designer Anna Sheppard, visual effects supervisor Mara Bryan, 2D digital supervisor David Sewell, art director Giles Masters, screenwriter Joshua Oppenheimer, and special effects supervisor Dominic Tuohy.
The program covers cinematography and photographic choices, the choice of the 2.35:1 aspect ratio, costumes, camera movement decisions, storyboarding, visual effects, specific sets and locations, creating the Texas, and shooting the boat chase.
Much less commentary-repetition occurs here. This program takes a nuts and bolts approach to the making of the film, and it does so well. The length of the show means we rush through most of the topics, but we learn enough about them to get a good feeling for matters. This ends up as an educational and enjoyable piece.
Lastly, Cast and Crew Wrap Film goes for nine minutes, 46 seconds. Essentially this is just a compilation of short behind the scenes moments from throughout the shoot. It’s a cute collection but not as interesting as it might sound.
Four Deleted Scenes last a total of four minutes, 47 seconds. These include “Kitty Mannock’s Crash” (0:51), “Finding Kitty Mannock’s Plane” (1:32), “The Long Kiss” (1:08), and “Oceanographers Dying In the Desert” (1:16).
The last two are useless, but the Mannock ones explain how the plane Dirk and Al find ended up there. It was unnecessary for the story, but it’s interesting to see.
We can view these with or without commentary from Eisner and McConaughey. As expected, they tell us a few production notes but mostly concentrate on why they cut the sequences from the final film. The remarks are helpful, though some of the information already appears in the feature commentaries.
Next comes Camel Chase, a five-minute, eight-second piece. It takes to the set to watch raw footage of the scene in question. “Chase” offers a decent view of the production.
Under Animatics, we find two segments: “Opening Scene” and “Train Jump”. In addition, Storyboard Comparisons cover three scenes: “Gun Fight At the Well” (2:08), “Finding the Iron Clad” (1:51) and “Dirk Rescues Eva on the Beach” (1:55). Both allow us a good look at planning stages of the filmmaking process.
Finally, we get the film’s trailer. Previews just offers an ad that touts Blu-ray Disc.
Sahara attempts to give us an action film in the Indiana Jones vein, but it ends up as a lackluster wannabe. The movie never catches fire and lacks the zest and vigor to maintain our attention. The Blu-ray offers generally good picture and audio along with a nice selection of supplements. Despite the dated visuals, I have no major complaints about the Blu-ray but the movie remains mediocre.
To rate this film, visit the prior review of SAHARA