Ark of the Sun God (IT - DVD)
Gabe's pretty sure that David Warbeck could've whipped Harrison Ford's ass
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David Warbeck is Rick Spear, a world renowned safecracker who accepts the impossible task of breaking into the Ark of the Sun God. Soon both he and his lovely girlfriend (Susie Sudlow) are in grave danger, attacked from every side by friends and foes alike as they travel to Istanbul to retrieve a magical sceptre that once belonged to the God Gilgamesh.
I find genuine joy in grindhouse rip-offs, specifically those of the Italian persuasion, and I understand fully that this joy is unnatural. The recent rise in cult interest DVD releases has been a virtual Godsend in feeding this unnatural joy, as most of the companies specializing in this sort of thing are finally running out of gory horror movies and moving on to different genres. I was specifically attracted to Ark of the Sun God (aka: Il Sopravvissuti della città morta ) for three reasons: one, Raiders of the Lost Ark is ripe for mimic, two, David Warbeck was the best poor man’s every actor living in Italy, and three, Antonio Margheriti never fails to deliver the low budget entertainment.
The Raiders of the Lost Ark angle isn’t quite as obvious as one would assume from the director, release date, lead actor, or country of origin. Ark of the Sun God is obviously ‘inspired’ by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas’ Saturday Matinee throw back, but it doesn’t lift the plot or style as specifically as I’d expected. The film features more nods to James Bond than Indiana Jones, and more than a few hat tips to Mario Bava’s Diabolik and the original Thomas Crowne Affair. The Raiders elements (temple raiding, snake pits, etc.) don’t really kick in until the final thirty minutes.
Warbeck’s resemblance to Roger Moore is more than passing. Moore was, of course, the man with two ‘0s’ and a tux to his name at the time. The Bond influences come on heavy during the film’s first half. Warbeck’s gentlemen thief is a bit annoying early on, but once he gets into a groove his natural charm and tough guy grit are a decent substitute for the young Harrison Ford.
This isn’t Margheriti’s finest work (apparently he made two other Raiders rip-offs), but it’s quite clear he was working with major budget limitations. The scale of the script is just too big for the budget, unlike the director’s superior Last Hunter, which could hide its budgetary restrictions with its effectively cheap jungle sets. The Last Hunter script is also just generally more interesting. Margheriti is good and finding the charm in cheap set pieces, but his jarring scene-to-scene cuts are really strange, though not entirely uncommon considering his usual style. The film is entertaining and it moves very quickly, but it never crosses the line into the memorable, save some genuinely clever one liners (“If we English were all impeccable gentlemen Great Britain would still be a Roman province”).
The unintentional laughs come hard and fast as well. The cheese begins with a wild and dangerous car chase towards the end of the first act. Margheriti’s skills are just polished enough to cover the fact that every dangerous stunt is performed by RC cars for about a minute. The give away is the model train set. Later our heroes fly a helicopter over a miniature set, which includes a swastika shaped mountain range, and land in the Spanish desert. Then a villain rolls a particularly small stone wheel at them, in direct homage to Raiders of the Lost Ark’s giant boulder incident. A second miniature car chase is slightly more effective, as is the actual temple set, though we only spend a few minutes inside it.
This Italian DVD release is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, and is overall acceptable considering the source material. The image is a bit on the warm side, and the warmth often invades the transfer’s darkest corners, which I wouldn’t hazard to refer to as ‘blacks’. Artefacts flicker about the frame with regularity, and grain is heavy, specifically in darker scenes. The transfer’s biggest problems are video compression effects, like cross colouration noise, blocking, and some interlacing effects. Details aren’t too bad though, as long as the frame is relatively bright, but sometimes high contrast flares out far off faces and backgrounds.
The disc carries no English subtitles, so I was forced to watch the film in 2.0 English Mono, rather then the revamped 5.1 Italian. This was fine, however, because the majority of lead actors are actually speaking English. A small sampling the 5.1 track after finishing the feature was unimpressive. Effectively it’s almost identical to the Mono track. The English track is flat, and sound levels are inconsistent, but the audio is generally clean and without distortion. Both Italian tracks crackle and pop like a scratched record.
The menu and seller xploitedcinema.com both claim that Italian subtitles are forced while listening to the English track. The disc does prohibit audio and subtitle track switching while watching the feature, but those with auto play abilities and functions set to the correct specifications (automatically selecting English audio and turning off subtitles) may be able to beat the problem.
The only extras are an Italian trailer and Margheriti’s biography, which is written entirely in Italian.
Ark of the Sun God is only a minor film in Margheriti and Warbeck’s canons, but decent action, some funny dialogue, and some unintentionally cheesy moments make it an entertaining ninety-seven minutes. At the very least, it’s just as entertaining as the recent Mummy series, and genuinely better then The Scorpion King. Watch it for John Steiner’s fey butler (lover?) badass turn towards the end alone. He sneaks up and shoots up the bad guys, helps the heroes escape, and finds the time to whip out an umbrella to protect his ‘master’ from falling ash. The theme song’s a keeper too.
You can find and many other Italian action rip off favs at Xploitedcinema.com. Check them out and support my sponsor.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Release Date: 1st January 1995
Disc Type: Single side, single layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 Italian, Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono English
Subtitles: English, Italian
Extras: Cast Bios, Trailer
Easter Egg: No
Director: Antonio Margheriti
Cast: David Warbeck, John Steiner, Susie Sudlow
Length: 98 minutes
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