Treasure Of The Lost Desert

Director: Tony Zarindast   
Bruce Miller, Susan West, Larry Finch

If you have been reading the new reviews at The Unknown Movies for some time now, you have probably noticed that with almost all of them, I have been starting the reviews by writing about how the subject matter in these movies has made an impact in my life. This is to better explain my perspective, to further help readers to come to a conclusion as to whether the movie I review is worth their time (whether I gave the movie a positive or negative review.) Sometimes it is hard to write for a considerable amount of space about the subject matter. But with Treasure Of The Lost Desert, I am in luck, because this movie is able to give me several things to talk about in the opening of this review. You are probably thinking there are three things in the title of this movie I can talk about, but you are wrong. There are actually five things I can talk about - you forgot about the words "of" and "the" in the movie title. I'll start off with those two words. "Of" is a word I have found myself using a lot during my life. Same with the word "the", and with that last word I have found I have used both pronunciations of it more or less equally. Okay, I'll stop joking around now and get to the meaty words in the title of the movie I am reviewing. "Lost"? Well, come to think of it, I can't recall a time in my life when I have been lost. Ever since I can remember, I have always had a good sense of direction. I remember when I was six years old and amazed my parents by drawing a perfect map that showed the way from our home to the elementary school I went to more than a mile away.

I'm starting to run out of topic ideas, and I still have to find some sort of connection between this movie and my personal life to report. What about the word "desert" in the title of the movie? Okay, I can report that I have some experience with a desert. More than twenty years ago, I was on a cruise in the Mediterranean, and one of the stops we made was in Egypt. On one day touring the country, we traveled just outside of the Cairo/Alexandria area, and entered the desert to see the Sphinx and the pyramids. My impressions of the desert? Well, let's see... it was hot... and sandy... and I was ripped off by a soft drink seller in those hot sands. Also, I was lucky to not be on the particular tour bus that broke down in the middle of the desert when we were being taken back to the ship. That's about all I can remember about that desert. I could also report that when growing up, I lived not that far away from an area in British Columbia that has been classified as a desert by scientists, an area that actually gets less rainfall than the Sahara desert... though I have never actually made the trip to see this desert. So there's not much personal experience with deserts that would really influence my perspective on a cinematic desert. That leaves the word "treasure" to make me able to say something. Well, I remember having a fascination with the idea of treasure ever since I can remember. I remember reading dozens of books about treasure, both fictional and reports of real-life treasure like that found in King Tut's tomb.

With my life-long fascination with treasure, you can probably imagine that I was excited to find a copy of Treasure Of The Lost Desert at the used video store I frequent. And if you have read my earlier review of Allan Quatermain And The Temple Of Skulls, you can probably guess I was more pumped up because the part of the title that reads "...Of The Lost..." promised this would be a clone of one of my favorite movies, Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Though when I was back home and read the back of the box more closely, I learned this may not be the case. It reads: "Treasure Of The Lost Desert explodes with action and adventure as a U.S. Army Green Beret Captain is assigned to a special mission that turns into a fight for his life! Captain Claude Servan is sent to the state of Dubai on a secret mission to crush a terrorist operation led by a mysterious figure called Eagle. Because Servan was born in Dubai, he knows the countryside and the best man to lead the attack. On arrival, Servan and the Green Berets are ambushed by Eagle's men. In the ensuing firefight, the terrorists are overrun and killed. Two of the Berets go undercover and learn the location of a fabulous treasure that Eagle intends to barter for guns. Servan seeks the help of his childhood friend, Aslan, to locate the treasure. Aslan advises Servan to abort the mission and go back to the United States before he gets hurt. But Servan realizes he alone must confront and destroy the terrorist leader called Eagle. Death and blood may be the treasure of the lost desert!"

I wouldn't say that my expectations for Treasure Of The Lost Desert were sky-high - I could tell that this movie would not be high-budget, and also that the movie was a foreign production of the kind where technical skills would not be up to Hollywood productions. But I was reasonably sure that the movie would at least be trying to deliver the goods. Besides that promising plot description on the back of the video box, the front of the video box had art that promised high action, showing nineteen (yes, I counted them all) parachuters descending onto a Middle East city, while also showing a big bridge being blown up with soldiers running away from the explosion. But after actually watching the movie, I can say that both the front and back of the box are filled with lies. The parachuters promised by the front of the box aren't there - there happens to just be one, maybe two parachuters in the movie, who are shown parachuting during their long and boring training sequence for the upcoming mission (despite the fact that they are never shown subsequently parachuting during the actual mission.) As for the promise of action surrounding a bridge, well, towards the end of the movie a bridge does make an appearance, a bridge that had parts that sort of look like the one on the front of the video box. But as you may have guessed by now, the movie's budget does not allow the filmmakers to blow up the bridge, either in real life, or even as a model in a studio. The bridge remains intact, not being threatened by explosions or anything else at any time.

I realize that by criticizing the box art of Treasure Of The Lost Desert I am more or less just nitpicking. But if you knew how this movie seemed to have a relentless aim to alternate between boring, annoying, and confusing me right from the beginning to the very end, you would understand why I am determined to shoot down this movie in every possible way. Let me stay with the video box just a little longer, this time moving to the plot description on the back of the box. After reading the plot description and subsequently watching the movie, I have to conclude that the writer of that plot description was pretty desperate. The hero being a U.S. Army Green Beret captain? No, he seems to be Middle Eastern, despite having what sounds like a French name. The action taking place in Dubai? The characters keep saying "my country" and "this country", but what country this is taking place is never mentioned once. To add to the confusion, director Zarindast is Iranian, and the end credits thank Rome's Cinecitta. (The end credits also say the movie was filmed in Yemen, but the movie has details that don't seem to place the action there, such as western-looking countrymen who have red hair and other details.) To add to the confusion, despite the well-know attitude towards homosexuality that most (if not all) Islamic countries have, there is a surprising gay subtext to the movie, with stuff like men kissing each other on the lips, a couple of dozen soldiers jogging on base while shirtless, shirtless wrestling, and one man drinking water cupped the hands of another man.

There's also the opening sequence, where a "pretty boy" young man follows an older gentleman around the city for an ungodly long time that suggests he has something else in mind before he (finally!) confronts the older gentleman with the message he is bringing from his boss. That's far from the only boring part of Treasure Of The Lost Desert - there are other scenes that are clearly padding. One scene has one of the squad dropped off by helicopter into the countryside, where a jeep with his comrades is waiting to pick him up (why didn't he join them when they started their jeep journey back in civilization?) We then get several minutes of the men in the jeep driving through mud... passing a donkey... and other non-exciting events going through the drab countryside. Maybe director Zarindast thought that all of this padding would somehow hide the movie's frequent shoddiness. In fairness, some of this is due to the atrocious pan-and-scanning and dubbing, the latter at its worst when characters are shouting or singing, but also during quieter moments when characters awkwardly say stuff like, "I don't wanna... end up... in a prison camp." But Zarindast has to shoulder the blame with stuff like the frequent use of hand-held cameras jiggling around and making it hard to see the action. That is, if you can call the stuff in this movie "action"; no action happens for the first thirty minutes, and the little that subsequently happens is both lame and cheap (example: we hear bullets in gun fights, but don't see stuff like bloody squibs or dust from bullets hitting rocks or dirt.) As for the treasure, we don't ever get to see it - it stays in an unopened shoe box. Then there is the question of how a desert could remain lost even in 1983... but must I go on?

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See also: Allan Quatermain..., Bite The Bullet, Delta Force One...