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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Epic > Religion > Politics > Islam > World War II > The Message – 30th Anniversary Edition + Lion Of The Desert – 25th Anniversary Edition

The Message – 30th Anniversary Edition + Lion Of The Desert – 25th Anniversary Edition


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B-     Films: B-



Moustapha Akkad is a name most familiar to American audiences as the main producer of all the films in one of the most successful independent franchises of all time.  He produced John Carpenter’s hit Halloween (1978, reviewed elsewhere on this site) and all the many sequels since.  He has done other work over the years and film fans like this critic always hope such a filmmakers other work will eventually be discovered and enjoyed.  It is with this intent that Anchor Bay issued two double DVD sets of earlier epics he produced and directed.  However, both The Message (1976) – 30th Anniversary Edition + Lion Of The Desert (1980) – 25th Anniversary Edition took on new meaning when only months after finishing his all new audio commentaries, Mr. Akkad and his daughter were brutally killed in a terrorist bombing in Jordan.


One of the most bizarre twists in the U.S./Islamo-Fascist conflict to date, the government and royal powers in Jordan have said it has nothing to do with the U.S., but every bombing still feels like that and this is one of the most senseless in a long series of senselessness since hardly any U.S. or even Israeli targets were around.  With that said, Mr. Akkad’s lost is huge and I was reminded of that watching these two ambitious epics.


The Message (aka Arrisalah or Mohammed – Messenger of God) was made at the time to give the world a clear view and understanding of the rise of the Islam religion that was meant to be respectful, celebratory, honorable, sincere and pretty definitive about the history with Anthony Quinn as the man who brings the good news and announcement of the new Semite religion for the world to consider embracing.  The action and acting are good, though the film starts slow and takes a while to pick up, but at its best has some fine dramatic moments and the action has physicality for two reasons.  One, it is serious about the religion at hand, and there is no phony digital work to distract.  Large groups of extras are used for the big scenes and that helps the film appreciate in value no matter what your faith may or may not be.


Lion Of The Desert brings Quinn back as Omar Mukhtar (the Arabic title of the film), who managed to hold off the Italian Fascists for two decades (1911 – 1931) against take over, colonization, desecration, mutilation, humiliation, murder, rape and systematic elimination of their lives, culture and religion.  General Rodolfo “The Butcher” Graziani (Oliver Reed in another devilish, evil role) under the support and order of Mussolini (Rod Steiger, giving the role his method acting best) goes into Libya towards the end of that period to finish off the job once and for all, but they grossly underestimate Mukhtak’s resolve and leadership.  John Gielgud and Irene Papas co-star in this epic about how the Fascists ideas of absolute power get in their way until the ultimate resolution.  It too has its patchy points, but Akkad once again is much more hit than miss, making the film worth seeing.  It runs about half the three hours length of The Message, but has the same quality moments of impact.  The money 0on the screen and people on the screen, along without any digital again, make it sadly one of the last films of its kind.


The anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 image in all cases have their flaws, though the strange thing with The Message is that the Arabic version is framed at 2.35 X 1 and both were shot in that frame in real Panavision, so the Arabic Message is the only one here in the original theatrical frame.  Francis Coppola has done this with Apocalypse Now, which is in 2.35 X 1 scope in theaters, but 1.78/16 X 9 (or 1.85) on home video, so this is not unusual.  The presentations vary in definition and color quality throughout all individual playback, but these were shot to be seen on a big screen when filmmakers knew how to hold a shot.  Both were also rumored to be issued in 70mm blow-up prints closer to the 16 X 9 presentations here.  Jack Hilyard, B.S.C., shot both films and the results are involving at their best, which helps when the films sag in parts.


Both films want to emulate David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962) to some extent, so having Maurice Jarre create the music for both is obviously no coincidence.  His music works well in both pictures, though neither can escape the shadow of Lean’s classic.  The films are all here in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, likely taken from magnetic stereo release tracks, possibly optical as well.  There is event he possibility both were in 6-track magnetic stereo 70mm blow-up prints.  The Message would have been the old version with 5 speakers behind the screen, including traveling dialogue and sound effects, while Lion of The Desert would have been 4.1 Dolby.  Unfortunately, these mixes do not even decode very well in Pro Logic surround and that includes the Arabic versions, whether you under stand that language or not.  At least they are not monophonic, though dialogue can sometimes be lower than the music to the point of imbalance.


Extras include audio commentaries by Akkad on all four versions.  He did English language commentaries for the English language prints and Arabic for the Arabic prints.  A featurette on the making of The Message is in English on that disc only, while Lion Of The Desert has its featurette in both languages.  However, it is the commentary by Akkad that is the most poignant and now sad and ironic as it would be the last time he shared his thoughts on his art with the world at length.  These special editions are special indeed, offering the final chapters of one of the great independent world-class filmmakers.  Be sure to catch both sets.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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