A full-scale model of the Texas was built for the film. After the 1865 sequence was filmed, it was dismantled and reassembled in Morocco.
Penélope Cruz initially thought she was too young to play a World Health Organization doctor. A real WHO doctor told her that doctors that go to dangerous locations are more likely to be young.
The ship used to portray the Martha Ann was one of the vessels Robert Ballard used to find the Titanic. It has since been dismantled and sold for scrap.
The cast had camel-riding lessons during which they would have to ride the camel at full gallop for 90 minutes alongside a moving train.
In 2007, the film's full, 151-page line-item budget, entered as evidence in the lawsuits and supposedly confidential, was leaked to the Los Angeles Times. This rare look into the detailed finances of a film, especially a notoriously expensive bomb, showed the production benefiting from cheap Moroccan labour and European tax credits on one hand, but wasting the money on a plane crash that was cut and paying Penélope Cruz's hairstylist and dialect coach over a quarter of a million dollars. More seriously though, it even included expenses for what were explicitly labelled as bribes to Moroccan officials, some of which may have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
The interior of Massarde's toxic waste disposal plant was the factory in Britain where the jet engines for the Concorde were tested.
The only person able to jump from a camel onto a moving train was the camel wrangler himself, therefore, he doubled for all the actors.
Matthew McConaughey did many of his own stunts during the boat chase. According to Breck Eisner, "[He] would have done every stunt in the movie if the insurance company had let him."
The fact that Al Giordino had some of the Admiral's cigars was an inside joke from the novels. He always seemed to have some, no matter how carefully Admiral Sandecker kept them under lock and key.
Matthew McConaughey was paid $8 million for the movie, while Steve Zahn made $2.3 million, and Penélope Cruz $1.6 million.
Matthew McConaughey substituted real tequila for the apple juice that was supposed to be in the bottle.
Clive Cussler had written his own script, but clashed bitterly with every professional screenwriter brought in to polish or rework it, deriding them as hacks (the feeling was apparently mutual).
Matthew McConaughey had travelled up the Niger River and trekked through Mali as a tourist before the movie. Breck Eisner used McConaughey's pictures from his travels as research for the film.
Because of footprints left in the sand, many of the desert shots had to be done in one take.
A sequel was planned, but ultimately canceled due to the film's poor box office reception.
Steve Zahn said that carrying this truck bed liner was his least favorite thing to film.
For years, the author of the novel on which this film is based, Clive Cussler wanted Salma Hayek to play Eva Rojas. However, the film's producers chose Penélope Cruz for the role, a decision which was primarily made for monetary reasons. As Cruz is from Spain, the film qualified for $20.4 million in cash incentives for shooting in Europe, which would not have been possible if Hayek had been cast, as she is Mexican.
Matthew McConaughey had to wear a back brace after jump-kicking the bad guy off the tower.
When Dirk and Al talk about an incident in the past where they rode camels in Morocco, actors Matthew McConaughey and Steve Zahn are actually in the Moroccan desert (depicting Mali).
Philip Anschutz would not fund any film with even a possibility of getting an R rating, which meant that some scenes Clive Cussler wanted in the film, such as the brutal revenge murder of a slave boss, were not likely to be shot no matter how much the novelist complained.
The abandoned house Frank and Eva walk through is a real home in Morocco. Three families live in this one house.
A draft that the studio and the producers liked met with the approval of Rob Bowman, who had agreed to direct. But when the producers, whom he said never told him the extent of Clive Cussler's creative authority, kept telling him Cussler disliked that version because it dispensed with some of his favourite scenes, he quit.
The real U.S. Ambassador to Morocco came by while they were filming the Ambassador scene. When asked how the fake embassy looked, he said he wished the actual embassy was that nice.
In the opening scene of the movie, the camera sweeps across a series of newspaper clippings showcasing Dirk Pitt's accomplishments. If you watch closely you'll see two articles of note. One is an article about the raising of the Titanic. This is in reference to the Clive Cussler novel Raise the Titanic (1980) where Dirk Pitt brings the ship up (it was written several years before the real Titanic was found to be shattered beyond reach on the bottom of the ocean). The second article is about the discovery of the Oiseau Blanc. This plane was of French origin and was attempting to be the first plane to make a non-stop Paris to New York flight just weeks before Charles A. Lindbergh's successful journey. The plane left France and was never seen again, but several people in northern Maine claimed to have heard an airplane above the cloud cover at about the right time. Interestingly, in Cussler's "Sea Hunters II", he describes how he and his real-life NUMA team of volunteers went searching for the Oiseau Blanc in the forests of Maine, but were unable to find it. He suggests that it likely went down in a large bog. Note that Lindbergh's flight is often mistaken for the first transatlantic flight, his was the first 'solo' transatlantic flight and the first flight from New York to Paris non-stop, but the first transatlantic flight was Alcock and Brown in a WWI Vickers Vimy bomber in 1919, almost eight years before. A flight from Newfoundland to Ireland.
Shooting lasted three-and-a-half months in Morocco, a month in Spain, and five weeks in London.
The ship used to portray the Martha Ann was one of the vessels Robert Ballard used to find the Titanic. The original Dirk Pitt film, Raise the Titanic (1980), was about finding and raising the behemoth cruise liner.
The Tuareg were mostly played by a troop of horse riders who do stunt shows throughout Morocco.
The solar energy plant is all computer graphics. There are 350 CGI shots in the movie.
The military vehicles were supplied by the Moroccan army. They got them from the U.S.
The heat from the mirrors used was so strong, smoke rose from Matthew McConaughey's shirt.
A plane crash which lasted just 46 seconds on screen, yet cost $2 million to film, ultimately had to be cut from the finished film in order that contracts with advertisers who had paid millions to have their products featured in the film could be honored.
The Texas ship is the same boat used at the beginning of the movie, shipped all the way from the U.K. to Africa.
The ship was supposed to be more deeply buried, but sandstorms kept blowing the sand away.
Ten screenwriters working on the movie were paid $3.8 million in fees and bonuses. David S. Ward, who does not appear in the credits, received $500,000.
The budget ballooned to twice its original size - well over $100 million - which meant that, despite winning its opening weekend and performing well financially in despite poor reviews, the film still lost money.
Admiral Sandecker's power boat the Calliope is a Hunton RS43 that was modified with jet drives to operate in the shallow Niger River.
Clive Cussler blasted the film on his latest book tour. Before it was even released he filed suit, alleging Philip Anschutz and the other producers had never intended to honour their promise to give him creative control and deceived him all along. They, in turn, countersued, alleging he had promised to sabotage the film if they didn't use his script. Cussler lost, but some theater chains grew leery about booking the film.
Cinematographer Seamus McGarvey designed a "Sahara gold" filter to create the feeling of heat.
Matthew McConaughey and Penélope Cruz started dating after they met on set. The relationship lasted a little over a year.
The dictator's antique car is a fiberglass replica of a 1936 C28 Avions Voisin built by D Tessier in Tours, France. Tessier is a well known restorer of Avions Voisin automobiles. Clive Cussler has a genuine 1936 Avions-Voisin, similar to the C28 that inspired the replica, in his Colorado museum. The chassis is 4WD with a 4.2 Jaguar engine and Rover gear box. It was designed by Steve Lamonby. The replica was completed in four months.
Matthew McConaughey learned hand-to-hand combat techniques during two weeks of Navy SEAL training.
In the background there's an extra in a green shirt and hat that's in almost every shot.
As the camel Matthew McConaughey was assigned would not stay still, the scene where he swings off the camel's neck had to be reshot several times.
Steve Zahn was really sick while filming the scene where the boat drives down the river past a town. Most of the cast got sick at some point during filming.
To promote the film, Matthew McConaughey drove his own Airstream trailer (painted with a large Sahara movie poster on each side) across America, stopping at military bases and many events, such as the Daytona 500 (to Grand Marshal the race), premiering the movie to fans, signing autographs, and doing interviews at each stop. The trip's highlights were shown on an E! channel special to coincide with the film's release. McConaughey also kept a running blog of his trip on MTV's entertainment website. Both MTV and the film's distributor, Paramount Pictures, are owned by Viacom.
The scene where Carl brings a bottle of water to Massarde was shot at the hotel where the cast stayed while they were in Spain.
Five detailed Confederate coins were made for the movie, along with 15,000 gold discs for this scene.
Breck Eisner said the scene where Dirk and Eva are flirting is the moment when he knew the chemistry between these two was working.
Following the failure of Raise the Titanic (1980), Clive Cussler had refused to sell the movie rights to any of his books, until he was approached, just as he had been for that film, by a very rich outsider, in this case Philip Anschutz. A Denver billionaire who had parlayed his oil and gas fortune into a broad range of investments, he was also a strongly conservative Christian. One of his investments had been the Regal theater chain, the largest in the country, and like many successful film exhibitors he decided to put some of his money into productions. The Anschutz Film group sought to produce films that weren't R-rated and delivered a strong moral message. Cussler, remembering the earlier experience, not only got Anschutz to shell out $10 million for the rights to his 1992 novel Sahara, he also got final approval for the script, cast and director-a highly unusual provision for the author of a novel being adapted into a film.
Steve Zahn wears a "Stockyard" cap with a Longhorn Bull logo. The Stockyards are a major historical site and attraction in Fort Worth, Texas.
The mosque is based on the Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali, one of the most famous landmarks in Africa.
There were 250 horses and hundreds of extras used in the shot of the Tuareg looking down from the hills.
Breck Eisner felt that early '70s American classic rock personified the characters in the movie.
Al Giordino is described in the books as a swarthy Italian with curly black hair and a bushy mustache. The role went to pale midwesterner Steve Zahn. The reason for this is that the filmmakers decided to put more emphasis on the comedy relief aspects of the character because there isn't an actor alive who fit close enough to Giordino's description in the books and that this decision had the support of Clive Cussler.
Dayna Cussler was cast for the role of "Kitty Mannock," but her scenes were cut before release.
Breck Eisner wanted Kazim to be modern and suave, instead of an Idi Amin style of dictator.
While shooting in the desert, the cast and crew endured sand storms and swarms of locusts.
Rainn Wilson states on his Instagram that while shooting the scene where Rudi is escaping from the border guards; every take the goats would get scared, start bleeting, and pee. They did about 8 takes and by the end it was sloshing back and forth in the truck and showering him in goat urine.
Both a miniature and life-size model of the helicopter were used for the explosion.
Breck Eisner got the idea for the scene where Al asks Dirk how to tie a tie from his dad trying to teach him how to tie a tie as a kid.
When Eva, Dirk and Al are riding camels across the desert that was the first day of shooting with all three of the movie's stars together.
William H. Macy was cast in order to bring an indie film element to an other wise big budget feature.
The cast had a hard time working with the camels, which are notoriously finicky animals. Breck Eisner said: "A camel is a stubborn beast of an animal."
Clive Cussler later alleged to have used racist and antisemitic slurs to refer to some of the counterparties during arguments over the script and casting.
Originally, the guys were going to crash the plane into a jeep, which would drive them to the gas station. It was decided the plane crashing into the gas station would be simpler.
There were three identical racing camels for each actor that would each run only 200 yards at a time. Breck Eisner said: "In order to get a camel to run you have to yell its name, hit it and kick it."
The ship set was balanced on a motion base that was shaken back and forth using a joystick control.
"Never Been Any Reason" by Head East was also featured in Matthew McConaughey's first movie, Dazed and Confused (1993).
Steve Zahn and William H. Macy have worked together previously in the Happy,Texas (1999) movie.