Sands of Oblivion (DVD)
Reviewed by The Foywonder
Starring Adam Baldwin, Dan Castellaneta, George Kennedy, Richard Kind
Directed by David Flores
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Given how uninspired and formulaic most Sci-Fi Channel original movies are Sands of Oblivion deserves special recognition for having one of the most unique story ideas for any movie they've ever produced. It opens in the deserts of Guadalupe, California of 1923; at which time legendary director Cecile B. DeMille is in the process of filming his original epic silent movie version of The Ten Commandments - a classic in its own right though not as well known as DeMille's more popular 1956 Technicolor Charlton Heston remake. DeMille's film set is plagued with mysterious deaths that are shown to be the work of something that looks an awful lot like the Egyptian god Anubis. When filming is finally complete and not knowing what genuine Egyptian relic on the set had unleashed this evil spirit, DeMille has the lavish sets completely buried under the sand dunes, convinced that they and the evil they house will be lost to the sands of time.
Everything starts out great with Dan Castellaneta (the voice of Homer Simpson) doing a spirited take as the legendary Cecile B. DeMille, winning over a studio penny pincher (Richard Kind of "Spin City" fame in a pointless cameo) concerned about the high cost of production by barking out lines like, "People all over the world will be lining up to see this. At a whopping fifteen cents per ticket, we will be millionaires."
Castellaneta is so entertaining in the role it's a damn shame he departs the movie after only about ten minutes, at which point the film jumps to modern times where an archaeological expedition is underway to locate and excavate the lost sets. The moment Sands of Oblivion jumps to modern times it starts down a slippery slope to just being another uninspired and formulaic most Sci-Fi Channel original movie.
In modern day Guadalupe, we have an Iraqi war vet named Mark ("Charmed" cupid Victor Webster) assisting his elderly grandfather (film legend George Kennedy) in his search for a time capsule grandpa had buried as a child on the set of The Ten Commandments some 80-years earlier. At the same time, Dr. Alice Carter ("Firefly" alumni Morena Baccarin) is leading a bunch of her dumb and photogenic students on an expedition out in the California desert in search of the DeMille's sets. Mark and his grandpa will quickly join up with Dr. Alice's group since grandpa's knowledge might help lead to finding the precise location. A potential romance between Mark and Alice is set up almost immediately. Things become complicated once Dr. Alice's soon-to-be-ex-husband, the philandering Dr. Jesse Carter (Adam Baldwin, also of "Firefly" fame), arrives to stir things up.
Adam Baldwin gives a three-tiered performance: smug, reacting in disbelief, and teeth gnashing, scene-chewing derangement. It's the sort of hammy B-movie performance a guy like Andrew Divoff can give in his sleep, but Baldwin here just comes across bad due once his character turns evil and spends the remainder of the movie constantly yelling about "the master".
No sooner do Mark and his grandfather discover the location than the Anubis-looking Egyptian demon awakens and begins killing, often using its own hands to turn people to dust, other times unleashing scorpions, cobras, or taking on the form of a large cobra composed of sand. I preferred the simple Anubis form done using practical effects with very limited CGI integrated. It looked truly menacing and had tremendous presence.
The screenplay by Jeff Coatney and Kevin VanHook (who ventured into this territory previously for the Sci-Fi Channel with his enjoyable Casper Van Dien vs. a giant mummy flick, The Fallen Ones) keeps showing flashes of inspired imagination, such as when one-dimensionally cartoon animated hieroglyphics spring to life from the wall and begin wrestling with Mark. But too often Sands of Oblivion veers tragically into idiotic poor man's Stephen Sommers territory. If you want to know the mindset that plagues Sands of Oblivion, grandpa loses an arm to the just resurrected Anubis; pulled to safety, a fatally wounded George Kennedy is required to react to his bloody stump by jokingly asking, "Where's the rest of me?"
The second half of Sands of Oblivion has Mark and Alice going in search of the truth while the others back at the site are killed off one-by-one and Jesse gets converted to the dark side. Mark and Alice meet with an eccentric old Brit that used to work with DeMille who proceeds to prattle off a goofy explanation for everything going on that manages to combine both Egyptian mythology and Freemasons - another set of ideas squandered since so precious little of it is worked into the plot in any way other than paying lip service. The plot mechanics still boil down to a mythological killer on the loose that can be repelled with a magic amulet and a rocket launcher proves to be the solution to life's little problems - even those of supernatural origin. By the time we get introduced to an annoying, redneck, arms-dealing survivalist named Buford who kept complaining about the boils on his ass and the action devolved into a desert dune buggy chase that looked like something straight out of an old episode of "Starsky & Hutch", I was just sitting there wondering what the hell had happened to this movie that started out so promising?
Also uninspired are the special features. We get one, a ten minute making-of featurette. Kind of fitting since there's nothing special to note here anyway.
There's dumb fun and then there's just dumb. Sadly, Sands of Oblivion settles on just being dumb. Somewhere around the halfway point it all turns into one big joke. Alas, a great premise is wasted on a Sci-Fi Channel original movie that just can't help but be... well, a Sci-Fi Channel original movie.
2 out of 5
1 1/5 out of 5
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