When I spend six hours surfing the net to find information about, or related to the content of, a film, I would have to say that that film "engaged" me--and for me that is what the best movies do, regardless of their status as a film. "Sands of Oblivion" has done that for me--and more than once! I was just re-watching the film for specifics to write this review, and the next thing I knew I had over nine windows open on my computer about topics related to "Sands of Oblivion." And the more I "research," the more I come to really enjoy and appreciate this wonderful film.
Jeff Coatney and Kevin VanHook have written an intriguing, fresh, and "factually" based story. I certainly do not know how they came to incorporate what they did, but in telling their story they actually do a very good job of "getting it right." For example, the basic premises that "The Ten Commandments," a 1923 epic silent film directed by Cecil B. DeMille, was filmed along the California coast, that the vast set he created was "buried," and that an archaeologist would be "looking" to uncover it are all absolutely true. Demille's "The Ten Commandments" was filmed at Nipomo Dunes (now a National Natural Landmark), San Luis Obispo County, California (near Pismo Beach), which is now an archaeological site (officially called Ten Commandments Archeological Site). The film location was originally chosen because its immense sand dunes provided a superficial resemblance to the Egyptian desert. After the filming was complete, the massive sets--which included four 35-foot tall Pharaoh statues, 21 sphinxes, and gates reaching a height of 110 feet, which were built by a small army of 1,600 workers--were in fact dynamited and buried in the sand. Unlike the film, however, much of what is left of the old sets are very visible because the winds constantly shift the sands that covered the ruins, and because of ecological degradation--alleged to in "Sands of Oblivion."
The character of Im-La-Ra, the Left Hand of Set, appears from my research to be completely fictional. Set (also spelled/known as Seth, Sutekh or Seteh), unlike his portrayal on episodes of "Stargate SG-1," (where Danial called him a minor god of "sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll), was considered to be immensely powerful, and was regarded as the chief god by many early Egyptians; moreover, Set carried the epithet, "His Majesty," shared only with Ra. But more importantly for "Sands of Oblivion," Set was originally the god of the desert, storms, and chaos; while in more recent eras he was, along with Typhon, seen as an evil force, storm deity and son of the Earth that attacked the main gods (a possible source for his downgrading on "Stargate SG-1"). Regardless, it is clear that the "avenging one," Im-La-Ra, is a manifestation (i.e., the "left hand") of Set, capable of using the powers of the desert and storms. [I should point out that if you go to IMBd, this character is casted as Anubis Creature. While I have yet to clearly hear the name Anubis used in the film, it would not be impossible to understand, since Anubis was a jackal-headed god associated with mummification and the afterlife in Egyptian mythology. To a degree, the "god" in "Sands of Oblivion" does look more like Anubis than Set, as well.]
Like several other reviewers, I thought that the cast was wonderful. Dan Castellaneta (famous as the voice of Homer Simpson) was absolutely perfect as the lovable, but tyrannical Cecil B. DeMille, while Richard Kind (of "Mad About You" fame) gave a great cameo as Ira, DeMille's accountant. The real treat, of course, was the chance to see 83 year old George Kennedy again, playing the "pivotal" role of the old John Tevis. The character, John Tevis, was a boy on the set of "The Ten Commandment," and as such believes he has a better idea of where the "hidden" set is located; plus he can use a metal detector to search for a box that he buried on the set as a boy. It is also John's father, Cully Tevis (uncredited; Anthony Reynolds ?), who, we find out through the course of the film, was responsible for integrating real Egyptian artifacts and "magic" into the production of the set, and helping to lock inside the set the "god-creature" Im-La-Ra. And, it is John Tevis' son, Mark (played by Victor Webster) who "re-imprisons" Im-La-Ra (by turning him to glass). Mark, an Iraqi war veteran, also becomes part of a poorly played out "love triangle" with Alice Carter (played by Morena Baccarin, of "Fire Fly" and "Stargate SG-1") and her estranged, unfaithful husband Jesse Carter (played by fellow "Fire Fly" actor Adam Baldwin).
The plot of "Sands of Oblivion," then, is that Cecil B. DeMille has "destroyed" the set in a ploy to hide the fact that he was actually entrapping Im-La-Ra in one of the stages using an ancient curse. This fact is analogously presented in the scene where young John Tevis is burying a "treasure" box/time box. The key here is that the box contains the same Amulet of Ra used by the ancient Egyptians to originally entrap Im-La-Ra. Apparently during an illegal archaeological dig DeMille and John Tevis' grandfather opened the "tomb" that had entrapped Im-La-Ra. One of the "artifacts" they discovered and brought back was the Amulet of Ra, which, of course, they did not know was for. While burying his box, John uncovers a "prop," the Amulet of Ra (dropped by a set guard just before he was killed), which he adds to the box. Thus, as in the opening sequence of "Sands of Oblivion" when the narrator states that the amulet had to be buried to keep Im-La-Ra there, by burying the Amulet of Ra in his box John unknowingly (to himself or anyone else) repeated the "magic." The gist of this action is that this was really what kept Im-La-Ra prisoner after the set was "destroyed." Years later, when older John Tevis finds the box he had buried and opens it, the over-arching protection against Im-La-Ra is lifted, and Im-La-Ra tears off John's arm (which kills him). From this point, the movie becomes one of trying to undo that which has been done. Poetically, it is Mark Tevis that "inadvertently" buries the Amulet of Ra when he fires the LAW rocket to explode the WP grenades; ironically, in the end, they all still think that it will be the Free Masons building a new tomb that will hold Im-La-Ra "prisoner."
Another aspect I loved about "Sands of Oblivion" was the reference to and (inaccurately portrayed, but accurately described) use of "willy-petters" or white phosphorous (WP) hand grenades (which I have only seen referenced in one other movie, "We Were Soldiers Once" (which more graphically displays their destructiveness)). If you did not catch the point through the indirect dialogue, white phosphorous burns at an incredible intensity, and a box of them set off at the same time just might turn sand into glass just like a lightning strike can do. The use of WP to stop the "creature" was very inventive--even if the shot of the LAW missile showed it missing the box of WP by an easy 10 feet!
If this review was not helpful to you, I would appreciate learning the reason(s) so I can improve my reviews. My goal is to provide help to potential buyers, not get into any arguments. So, if you only disagree with my opinion, could you please say so in the comments and not indicate that the review was not helpful. Thanks.