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Dr. Anansa Linderby is kidnapped in a medical mission in Africa by a slave trader. From this moment, her husband will do anything to recover her and to punish the bad guys, but that will be not an easy task...
For more about Ashanti and the Ashanti Blu-ray release, see Ashanti Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on December 10, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.0 out of 5.
Starring: Michael Caine, Beverly Johnson, Omar Sharif, William Holden, Rex Harrison, Kabir Bedi
Director: Richard Fleischer
» See full cast & crew
Ashanti Blu-ray Review
Will you be 'Taken' with this new Blu-ray?
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, December 10, 2012
Ashanti is a little remembered 1979 film which originally bore the subtitle Land of No Mercy, an epithet which some involved in the production might have felt was an appropriate description of Hollywood and its vagaries. Director Richard Fleischer had grown up amidst one of the most titanic conflicts (intentional or otherwise) in all of early Hollywood, that between Walt Disney and Fleischer's own father, the legendary Max Fleischer. (Some have averred that Disney was attempting to bury whatever hatchet there may have been by hiring Richard Fleischer to direct 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which turned into one of Disney's all time biggest box office hits and put Fleischer's name solidly on the map as one of the top directors of his generation.) Michael Caine had actually been in films since the late fifties, mostly in bit parts to begin with, but had really burst upon the scene with a trio of high profile roles in the mid-sixties, Zulu, The Ipcress File and most especially Alfie. But a little more than a decade later, Caine's career was definitely in a fallow period, with lamentable efforts like The Swarm and Beyond the Poseidon Adventure filling the actor's figurative dance card. William Holden was nearing the end of his long career in this film, and while he had still managed to appear in some A-list films (notably Network, his long bouts with alcoholism combined with his age had made him a much less bankable property than he had once been. But on paper at least, Ashanti probably looked like a sure bet, at least as there is anything like a sure bet in the risky world of films. With a largely big name cast (other stars included Peter Ustinov, Omar Sharif and Rex Harrison), as well as supermodel Beverly Johnson, whose manacled, bosom revealing image was featured prominently in the film's advertising campaign, and the sensational subject of human slave trafficking at its core, Ashanti had the potential at least to be a bristling human interest drama set in an extremely exotic locale. Instead, whatever Gods or Demons who look over such efforts showed, well, no mercy and the result is a decidedly mixed affair that has a few redeeming characteristics but will probably strike a lot of viewers as hopelessly melodramatic and even unintentionally laughable at times. Critics at the time were not exactly kind to the film, and Caine has long considered it one of his career low points. No mercy indeed.
We reviewers are introduced to so many disparate films in our official duties that sometimes our experiences lead us to make perhaps unexpected connections between movies, and that certainly happened as I watched Ashanti. I personally couldn't help but think of two much more recent films, 2009's Liam Neeson starrer Taken, and the little seen Christian themed 2012 opus Escape. Slave trafficking (or at the very least kidnapping) figures prominently in both of these features, but their approaches couldn't be more different. Taken of course has little pretense on its mind, and simply posits a kidnapping so that Neeson can spend the rest of the film exacting one vicious act of vengeance after another. Escape, as befits its religious leanings, infuses a lot of high-falutin' talk about grace and forgiveness as well as relying on the power of God to help in an ostensibly helpless situation. By contrast Ashanti kind of seems to want to walk a middle road between these two extremes, offering several action set pieces but also trying to introduce a human element that attempts to put the then contemporary slave trade into some kind of (questionable) context.
Ashanti begins with the following statement:
Slavery still exists today. Thousands of people disappeared in Africa last year. This story is based on fact.The issue of modern day slavery may well be a compelling subject for a film, but Ashanti doesn't fully exploit the premise, focusing instead on some histrionics and an over the top (which is not to say unenjoyable) performance by Peter Ustinov as Suleiman, the slave trader. Johnson and Caine portray married United Nations doctors working for the World Health Organization in Africa to help inoculate various tribes. The film starts out well enough, with a very colorful sequence finding both doctors arriving at a tribe and witnessing a ritual whereby the tribe asks for its ancestors' permission to go ahead with medical treatment. It becomes apparent that Johnson's character Anansa has a tribal background herself (hence the title Ashanti), which helps bridge the communication gap. Anansa decides to go swimming in a nearby river while her husband David takes photos of the tribe dancing, a decision which proves fateful when she's abducted by Suleiman and his gang of thugs.
The rest of Ashanti plays out very much like Taken, minus the sadistic element. David works with an anti-slavery activist (Rex Harrison) and ends up hiring a kind of mercenary (William Holden) to get him close to his wife, since local authorities prove to be of no use. That gambit doesn't work very well, but David doesn't give up easily, and with the help of another mercenary named Malik (Kabir Bedi) does manage to track Anansa through the shimmering Sahara desert. In the meantime Anansa has let Suleiman know he's actually kidnapped a United Nations doctor, not just a "mere" tribeswoman, but that only sparks Suleiman's interest that he might be able to fetch top dollar for the woman given the right "client". The final act of Ashanti could very well have been the template for Taken, with Anansa appearing heavily drugged before a wealthy client (Omar Sharif) who is willing to take the chance on buying an "unusual" slave for his personal use.
For whatever reason, Caine seems to be largely out of his element here, giving a strangely somnambulistic, emotionally tamped down performance that seems completely at odds with the fact that his character is desperate to retrieve his kidnapped wife. Johnson is actually pretty good, all things considered, though she has that "new actor" proclivity for over enunciating and investing each line with too much intent, rather than just "acting naturally". Harrison and Holden are old pros, not given much to do, while Sharif makes the most of a kind of smarmy cameo. The most compelling performance here is without a doubt Ustinov's, with the actor reworking the kind of scheming Machiavellian ambience he displays in many other roles.
A lot of Ashanti is at least fitfully interesting, especially in the middle section where Anansa has to come to grips with her predicament. And the film is undeniably scenic, in a destitute, barren sort of way. But the emotional content here is so weirdly kind of unconcerned that it completely defeats the film's attempts to make the slave traffic something the audience will want to invest in. Capped by a completely ludicrous final showdown aboard a luxurious yacht that will probably provoke more laughter than thrills, Ashanti shows little mercy itself.
Ashanti Blu-ray, Video Quality
Ashanti is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Severin Films with an MPEG-2 encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. As I mentioned in my review of Severin's simultaneously released The Wild Geese, the label seems to be testing the high definition waters with some of these new releases that feature older video codecs and lossy audio. (Rather interestingly, the supplementary interview with Beverly Johnson is encoded via AVC.) For whatever reason, Ashanti doesn't look quite as sharp as The Wild Geese and is further hobbled by video noise in several sections mid-film that involve the sandy expanses of the desert in what are basically longer optical shots as part of montages. There are also some stability issues early in the film on such likely subjects as heavy foliage. Colors are decently saturated, though seem to have faded slightly to the brown side of things. Fine detail really only pops at satisfying levels in extreme close-ups. This isn't a downright horrible looking transfer, but videophiles will probably be less than pleased with the overall look of the film.
Ashanti Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Like The Wild Geese, Ashanti features only a lossy Dolby Digital 2.0 audio option. Things are about what you'd expect here, with a slightly compressed sounding mix that still delivers adequate fidelity for dialogue and for Michael Melvoin's kind of interesting score. For those who don't recognize Melvoin's name, he was a much in demand session pianist from the sixties on, and he is also the father of Wendy Melvoin of Prince fame. This film was made at the very tail end of the disco era, and Melvoin's opening theme has a certain disco ambience, but some of his underscore cues are quite well done. The closing theme, sung by Jimmy Chambers, isn't exactly Oscar material, however.
Ashanti Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Ashanti Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Ashanti has a few moments when it really connects with the audience, but Caine especially seems to be sleepwalking through this enterprise, and that fatally undercuts any reason for the viewer to become emotionally involved in the story. Think of it this way: if Dr. David doesn't seem to care all that much that Anansa has been kidnapped and forced into slavery, why should we?
Ashanti Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Severin Signs New Distribution Deal, Announces New Titles - November 14, 2012
Independent label Severin Films announced today that it has secured a new distribution deal with CAV Distributing Corporation. Severin Films also revealed that they are planning to bring to Blu-ray The Hairdresser's Husband and Felicity, as well as a 10th Anniversary ...
• Ashanti Blu-ray - February 22, 2012
Independent distributors Severin Films have announced that they are preparing a Dual Format Edition of director Richard Fleischer's Ashanti (1979), starring Michael Caine, Peter Ustinov, Kabir Bedi (Sandokan), Omar Sharif, and William Holden. The release is expected ...
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