Sunday, April 20, 2008

SANDS OF OBLIVION (2007) d. David Flores

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

Cecil B. DeMille made a career out of producing and directing epic and inspiring films that he hoped would make him and the Studio he worked for a lot of money. While he was usually prudent with his finances, he was not afraid to spend cash when it was needed. Mr. DeMille felt that cinema should be entertaining and exciting but that it should also uphold cultural values and perpetuate popular legends and myths. The screenplay for the SciFi TV movie SANDS OF OBLIVION was inspired the experiences of Cecil B. DeMille’s early career as a producer and takes a very interesting approach to the DeMille mythos. It would be fascinating to ask Mr. DeMille what he thought of a movie that was able to capture a lot of the feel of films of yesteryear and do it with a sense of fun, frolic and fantasy.

SANDS OF OBLIVION is the story of Iraq-war veteran Mark and Dr. Alice Carter, both of whom are drawn to the California desert, hoping to unearth of piece of history. For buried under the sands of time is the original set of Cecil B. DeMille’s 1923 Silent Screen epic THE TEN COMMANDMENTS. As Mark and Alice’s quests are drawn together, they resurrect more than they expect and discover that something malevolent has been imprisoned beneath the sands. Stepping into a struggle of Good and Evil that has spanned thousands of years, Mark and Alice’s friends, family and former loves are sucked into a maelstrom of ancient dust and demons that threatens everyone’s lives and souls for eternity.

Television movies once knew how to blend the essence of what made the Golden Age of Cinema successful, old favorites and fresh faces among the celebrities, current trends that didn’t upset the equilibrium of the film, effective and professional production values and a well-scripted story that lead you from Point A to Point B with some twists and turns that made the ride pleasurable. SANDS OF OBLIVION is exactly like TV movies of yesteryear and that is why it is so thoroughly entertaining. The premise of the story combines one of the mightiest icons of Hollywood with ancient Egyptian supernatural forces, Secret Societies and a bloodthirsty monstrosity. While SANDS OF OBLIVION borrows from theatrical cousins like THE MUMMY and RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and recalls its closer TV relations like SNOWBEAST and CRUISE INTO TERROR, you don’t feel like you are being dragged over tired, rough ground. Instead, it is the embrace of an old friend that enfolds you in its strong arms of nostalgic rapture.

Replete wiith a leading man who is good-hearted, two-fisted and square-jawed and a leading lady who is smart, stunning and vulnerable, facing off against a jealous, flawed and corrupted antagonist, these character archetypes are both comfortably familiar and as enduring as the Pyramids. The cast is a mix of cinematic legends like George Kennedy and John Aniston, screen veterans like Dan Castellaneta and Richard Kind and youthful yet seasoned professionals Morena Baccarin, Adam Baldwin and Victor Webster.

Added to the iconic characters and the actors who effectively brought them to life is workman-like, competent camera work and steady, effectual lighting that allows the viewer to take in the eclectic mix of inexpensive yet creative set design, tried and true California location spots from every television show and movie you can recall, and green-screen visual effects that feel so much like the old Chroma-key sets that you’ll feel wistful. On top of all this evocative cinematic charm, there is a monster that is a guy in a huge suit with puppet prosthetics that is so reminiscent of scenes from LAND OF THE LOST or THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN that you’ll want to reach for a Mello Yello and listen to your Andy Kim 45s. Add in some dune buggy chase scenes with fisticuffs and ricocheting bullets, a total lack of nudity, filthy language and cultural banality, and you’ll swear you’re watching SANDS OF OBLIVION on your grandparents old Philco, having to readjust the rabbit ears now and then to insure the best UHF reception.

There is the occasional weakness here and there, one of which threatened to bring this fun film to a screeching halt. The appearance of Mark’s gun-toting redneck friend added an element of humor at an inopportune moment when suspense was building and the plot needed to maintain its momentum. Fortunately the story took a satisfying turn, the dune buggies were put to good use and the ship slipped through the Cataracts of the Nile unimpeded. For those people raised on spectacular CGI and who know nothing else, the visual effects of this film may disappoint. After an initial adjustment, I found that they added another layer of delightful fallibility to the production value that paid even deeper homage to the TV Movies of another era.

There aren’t many TV Movies that are brought to dvd that have extras at all, but “Beyond the Dunes: Making SANDS OF OBLIVION” is a ten minute behind the scenes admixture of short interviews with the cast and crew and “making of” footage and film clips. While short, this featurette has the same appeal of the film and in a crisp, clean manner is able to give you a brief look at how this flick came into being and how it was put together.

When one considers the simplicity of SANDS OF OBLIVION and that TV Movies are always made on the cheap when it comes to every angle of the production, things could have gone horribly wrong with this project. It was as if the Great Spirit of Cecil B. DeMille smiled down On High, protecting the cast and crew with a Strong and Guiding Hand. Just as was the case in so many of Mr. DeMille’s films, by the time the denouement of SANDS OF OBLIVION is reached, evil has been defeated once again, the good guy gets the pretty girl, people are smiling, the sun is sinking towards the horizon in an unsullied sky and all seems right with our world again. Even though we know that such just isn’t the case anymore, at least for a little while, SANDS OF OBLIVION sweeps you back to that time and those feelings when you really felt like the Dream was still attainable.

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