Movie: Most people probably can't name two Polish movie directors. That is because only real movie lovers would ever venture out into seeing international releases by those directors they know nothing about, with casts that are even less known. Every now and then, I come across such a director and while some show a lot of intelligence, wit, and creativity (Andrzej Wajda comes to mind), most of the others are run-of-the-mill, like Gavin Hood. It's not that he's a bad director, just nothing you wouldn't find on the fringes of Hollywood at any given point. In his latest release, W Pustyni I W Puszczy (AKA: In Desert And Wilderness), the director uses his $4.5 million dollar budget to present what amounted to a Disney movie of the week.
The movie is set during the late 19th Century during the building of the Suez Canal. A military warlord, who has all the religious fanaticism of a few current leaders of the Middle East, decides to kidnap the children of a couple of foreign engineers, Stas (Adam Fidusiewicz) and Nel (Karolina Sawka). His intent is to use them as pawns as well as convert them to Islam to further his goals. After using their houseboy to set the trap, the kids are taken by the henchmen to the warlord's headquarters. They escape into the desert and fight to survive against overwhelming odds from all kinds of threats, including starvation, lack of water, the henchmen themselves, disease, hungry lions, and a tribe of bloodthirsty natives.
Okay, if you set aside the implausibility of the survival skills of the kids (this being totally escapist fare after all) and the fact that the bad guys would've ripped them apart in no time, it wasn't a bad little release for the kids. Yes, there was a lot of ethnocentric commentary being foisted on the audience but kids are not going to care much about it since they'll enjoy the various trials the cast go through, regardless of national origin. The acting was fair in this sense as was the script. For the most part, it wasn't anything special but it wasn't bad either. The movie is said to be a bit less faithful to the original novel by famed author Henryk Sienkiewicz than the first movie made by it (this feature was a remake of sorts), but as a stand alone project it rated a Rent It from me. If you can suspend your sense of disbelief to the extent you would for any of the Matrix movies, the glaringly unbelievable situations will be acceptable for your kids.
Picture: The picture was presented in 2.35:1 ratio non-anamorphic widescreen color. While there was some grain and minor artifacts on occasion, the colors were exceptionally clear. Otherwise, some moments of soft focus didn't detract from the decent look of the show.
Sound: The audio was presented with several choices in a 5.1 Dolby Digital format of either English or Polish or DTS versions of each. There were optional subtitles as well, unfortunately, those subtitles weren't present on some of the extras. The Polish track was very clear and the dubbed track not too bad with some decent separation between the audio channels and a good mix with the vocals to the music.
Extras: There were some good extras this time but, in a frustrating move, several of the best were only in Polish. The first was a behind the scenes look at the production called "On Trail Of The African Adventure". There were some interviews with the cast (again, in Polish), a trailer to the feature, trailers to other releases, a photogallery, a music video, some facts about the film (for trivia buffs), a double sided dvd cover, and a short written essay about the movie.
Final Thoughts: For a somewhat flawed movie, this one wasn't a bad release to plop the kids in front of for a Saturday afternoon. I think the story might've been better if it had adhered to the original book and not made so many side trips into the surreal but again, for kids it would be pretty good (although not too young because some of the situations might be scary for younger kids). Just like the exploits of Lawrence of Arabia, where the White man showed his superiority over the mean old Arabs, so to do the kids here do likewise. If that doesn't bug you, check this one out.