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Film / Sahara (2005)

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Al Giordino: Well, we're in the desert, looking for the source of a river pollutant, using as our map a cave drawing of a Civil War gunship, which is also in the desert. So I was just wondering when we're gonna have to sit down and re-evaluate our decision-making paradigm?
Dirk Pitt: I don't know — it seems to be working so far.

Sahara is a 2005 action-adventure film directed by Breck Eisner, loosely adapted from Clive Cussler's 1992 novel of the same name.

Matthew McConaughey stars as Adventure Archaeologist Dirk Pitt. While engaged in a deep-sea salvage off the coast of Nigeria with his partner Al Giordino (Steve Zahn), Dirk discovers evidence that a lost Civil War ironclad may have managed to cross the Atlantic and wind up in Western Africa. Simultaneously, he saves the life of a WHO doctor (Penélope Cruz), who is investigating the source of a strange disease. Together they travel up the Niger River, searching for the missing ship and the toxins causing the disease, while evading the forces of General Kazim (Lennie James), who rules over the region and may have something to do with the plague.

Not to be confused with the 1983 film of the same name. Lambert Wilson coincidentally starred in both. Also not to be confused with Bogey's Sahara (1943) or Belushi's 1995 remake.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Amalgamation: The NUMA ship here is named Martha Ann, which in the novel series was a secret ship used by the U.S. Navy.
  • Adventurer Archaeologist: The National Underwater and Marine Agency appears to be a sort of heroes for hire outfit for examples of this trope. Dirk is the straightest example in the cast, while Al is more of an Adventurer Archaeologist's Beleaguered Assistant, although he does have plenty of badass moments of his own.
  • Artistic License – Law: Sandecker uses Exact Words to avoid giving the Confederate gold to the US, as it is Confederate gold, not US gold. But legally, the CSA is considered a part of the US, not a separate country, and anything the CSA owned would automatically become the property of the US after being readmitted to the Union — it is now gold that belongs to the US. Of course, it's quite possible that Sandecker knows this and is just straight-up lying as he actually gave the gold to support the Tuareg village.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • In the final scene Dirk tells Eva that he has something to say that he meant to tell her after the movie's climax. Naturally the audience (and Eva) think he's leading up to something romantic, but Dirk merely says that, yes, Eva does throw like a girl. (This refers to some Casual Danger Dialogue from earlier in the film when Dirk needed Eva to throw some explosives.)
    • Also when the cannonball hits the chopper and it seems the fuse has failed. Then Kazim turns around again....
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Not only is Penelope Cruz's character thrown around and beaten up multiple times, but she also falls through the floor of the Saharan Shipwreck and is buried under a huge pile of sand. Her face gets a little dusty. Other than that, her hair is perfectly styled and she still looks like straight out of her L'Oreal commercials.
  • Big Bad: General Kazim.
  • Break Out the Museum Piece: A chopper gets taken out by a Civil War-era ship’s cannon.
  • Bring News Back: Rudi gets volunteered to take data on the toxins back to Sandecker.
  • The Brute: Zakara, a fierce Tuareg-turned-mercenary working for Massarde and Kazim.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: Al and Dirk do this a few times, most humorously when Dirk berates Al for taking too long to get the Texas' gun port opened and Al exclaims that he stopped for coffee. All the while Eva is trying to alert them to Kazim's incoming tanks.
  • Catchphrase: Al seems to say "Hi, how are ya?" a lot. Also doubles as a One-Hit Kill Pre-Asskicking One-Liner one time.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The gold coin, twice.
  • Compressed Adaptation: The novel has an entire subplot surrounding the crashed plane that Dirk and Al find, including a second prologue scene detailing the plane's origin and backstory of how it ended up crashed in the middle of the desert and what subsequently happened to its original pilot. The film completely removes this subplot and the plane has no plot importance beyond Dirk and Al using it to save themselves after being stranded in the desert.
    • This subplot is present in some deleted scenes.
  • Conveniently Timed Attack from Behind Eva saves Dirk's life this way.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: Do they honestly serve Massarde his own poisoned water in the end, without him noticing? Wow.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Yves Massarde, doing business with an African dictator. Although he doesn't seem to be aware of all the consequences of his actions.
  • Damsel in Distress: Eva clearly is a scientist, no Action Girl, though she is still gutsy enough to shoot the soldier with a gun on Dirk, and later leaps on Zakara, preventing him from killing Dirk. Dirk likes that.
    Dirk: We need to find that bomb.
    Al: No. I'll find the bomb. You get the girl.
    Dirk: [Chuckles] ... Deal!
  • Decapitated Army: Kazim's death seems like this at first. Lampshaded when the ones who did it (and indeed planned on it) immediately note that it shouldn't have worked. It didn't. In actuality, The Cavalry had arrived and surrounded the army offscreen.
  • Diegetic Switch: During the boat trip along the niger river the music goes from soundtrack, to the moored boat's radio. Later, after the heroes launch the boat again, the different tune on the radio shifts into soundtrack once more as the boat speeds away along the river.
  • Disney Villain Death: Zakara suffers one after a fight with Dirk.
  • The Dragon: Zakara and Yves Massarde to Kazim.
  • Dressing as the Enemy: Pitt and Co. infiltrate Massarde's plant by driving up in a car stolen from General Kazim, dressed as military personnel.
  • Exact Words: Sandecker gets out of giving the IRS some of the gold by saying "We didn't find any money belonging to the United States".note 
  • Extended Disarming: When captured by Tuareg freedom fighters, Al spends several seconds ridding himself of all of his guns, prompting looks from the other two and a Defensive "What?" from him.
  • Flare Gun: Rudi shoots a Technical with one.
  • Freeze-Frame Bonus: Among the various photos, souvenirs, and newspaper clippings shown as the credits play is an article about NUMA successfully salvaging the wreck of RMS Titanic, referencing Dirk's backstory that Cussler's readers might be familiar with.
  • Funny Background Event:
    • During Dirk's payphone call to Sandecker after pulling off a truly magnificent Indy Ploy and feat of MacGyvering, an understandably irritated local resident shouts abuse at Al and gesticulates wildly at the improvised sandsailer built from the wreck of an aircraft, which is now sticking out of the side of his house.
    • While the team is preparing the boat for a 'Panama', Sandecker can be faintly heard yelling into the phone, "No Panama!" the whole time.
  • Government Agency of Fiction: NUMA is specifically noted as being a private organization in the movie, despite being a government one in the books. However, the ending implies that the government wants to buy their services and make them official, so its likely this movie was intended to be an origin story.
  • Green Aesop: Though the carrot that brings Dirk to Africa is lost Confederate gold, the stick that keeps him there despite being shot at constantly is Massarde's secret toxic waste disposal site; a solar-powered furnace meant to safely destroy extremely hazardous chemicals of indefinite origin, a service which is making him very rich. Problem is, it's not able to destroy all of the waste, requiring the remainder to be haphazardly stored in an underground storage facility. A storage facility that's leaking this material into the water table — resulting in what Rojas diagnoses as a plague killing countless Malians. That's not the end of it, either; Sandecker's simulations show that if the contamination reaches the Atlantic, it will effectively cause an Atlantic Chernobyl.
    Sandecker: Rudi's got chemistry here. It says if that leak don't shut down ASAP it’s gonna reach the ocean. And when it does, that will be ground zero for the Atlantic’s version of Chernobyl.
  • Improvised Screwdriver: Dirk Pitt uses the gold dollar as a screwdriver to detach the pickup truck bed from the back of the truck.
  • Karmic Death: Kazim dies along with his pilot in a helicopter explosion, thanks to a heating powdered cannonball fired by Dirk, Al and Eva in revenge for the deaths of Hopper and many innocent Malian civilians under Kazim's reign.
    • Same goes for Massarde after being secretly poisoned by undercover agent Carl for polluting the river with his toxins and starting the plague that condemned many Malian citizens.
  • Karma Houdini: Subverted with Massarde. While he manages to pull off a Villain: Exit, Stage Left in the final battle, he later dies when drinking poisoned wine, courtesy of Carl.
  • Kick the Dog: Kazim does this several times but his worst act is when he personally kills Frank.
  • Language Fluency Denial: Spoofed when Dirk and friends are waylaid by Malian troops. (Dirk's just buying time.)
    Dirk: I'm sorry, I don't speak English.
    Malian soldier: [laughs] You are speaking English now!
    Dirk: No, I only know how to say, "I don't speak English" in English.
  • MacGyvering: Using parts of a crashed plane for desert-surfing.
    Dirk: I'll bet you a hundred there's a tool kit in there.
    Al: I don't wanna rain on your crazy parade, buddy, but I don't think we can fix this thing.
  • Lighter and Softer: The film is much lighter in tone than the book, containing a ton of humor and adventure that weren't in the latter and excising many dark moments and elements from it.
  • Mr. Fanservice: Dirk. He's a Walking Shirtless Scene.
  • Never Give the Captain a Straight Answer: Al follows a stray soccer ball down the street and into a basement room. He runs out and tells Dirk he better come see what's in the room, which we don't see until Dirk does ... the painting showing the wreck's location.
  • Noodle Incident:
    • When the head of the organization wants a U.S. government operative to help find his two people, the guy won't do it. So he mentions a specific date, something like "October 27, 1982." The operative says, "I thought you'd bring that up. If I help you, we're even."
    • Panama is another incident we only have a little bit of information on... aside from the fact that they apparently blew up a boat, that they later found out that they weren't actually in Panama but actually in Nicaragua (which may or may not have something to do with the fact they were being pursued by armed men), and that it didn't actually work. The fact that Sandecker knew exactly what they were going to do when he overheard the word Panama suggests that they nevertheless do it quite often.
  • Oh, Crap!: In the finale Kazim and his pilot have this reaction twice in a quick succession. First when they see the cannonball hurling their way. When it just smashes their windscreen and rolls around the chopper's floor without wrestling it out of their control, they have a brief moment of relief. Then they notice the ball sizzling...
  • Plot Device: The old coin.
  • Product Placement: Quite a few, which was part of the reason for the film's Troubled Production: by contract, those scenes had to be in the theatrical release, regardless of their relevance to the plot, forcing scenes that were more relevant and more expensive to film in some cases to be cut (see Shoot the Money, below).
  • Running Gag: Al losing his hat.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Eva's partner Frank Hopper. Upon being captured along with his team by Kazim and his troops, Frank witnesses his team being slaughtered by Kazim's troops while Eva evades capture by hiding inside a well. When Kazim interrogates Frank of Eva's whereabouts, Frank refuses to answer and instead goads Kazim to kill him anyways. Kazim instantly obliges to it by shooting Frank in the chest, which left Eva very upset and motivated to aid the heroes into stopping Kazim in his tracks.
  • Saharan Shipwreck: A literal one is the object of Pitt's search.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The Martha Ann brings back another title in the franchise, Pacific Vortex!.
    • A newspaper clipping of NUMA raising the Titanic is showing during the opening track around Pitt's cabin (might be regarded as Tempting Fate given the lack of success of that particular film).
    • Several of the other clippings in Pitt's cabin also reference some of the more memorable adventures that he and Giordino had in the other books in the series.
  • Stealth Pun:
    • Admiral Sandecker is wearing a hat in one of the very last scenes: it's a Panama.
    • Shortly before finding red algae in the river, the heroes are seen listening to "Sweet Home Alabama" on the radio.note 
  • Stupid Surrender: Kazim's army, which includes tanks and armored personnel carriers, oddly surrenders to the Tuareg army, which has only cavalry troops. Granted they had a slight edge in numbers, but the armored vehicles of Kazim's army were more than enough to make up the difference. There is a reason cavalry isn't used in modern warfare very much these days.
    • Downplayed, if not outright Averted, given that if you look closely at the men on the cliff with Modibo, there are some wielding an RPG. Note that the cavalry troops do not ride in until after Kazim's army has already surrendered.
  • Tampering with Food and Drink: Massarde is implied to die after being served poisoned water in a restaurant, served by Carl disguised as a waiter.
  • Tempting Fate: Pointing out that armor plating will protect you moments before being riddled by armor-piercing bullets.
    Dirk: These walls are two feet thick with a double steel coating so there's no way those bullets can get to us. We sit tight and wait him out.
    [cue hail of bullets]
    Al: Dirk. Ya' wanna talk me through that again?
    • For what it's worth, that armor plating is hardly in ideal shape after being buried under the sand for well over a century and it was not designed to hold up against modern day weapons, even if the villain wasn't using armor piercing rounds.
  • Trailers Always Lie: One trailer had this lovely exchange while Dirk and Al are sailing across the desert, which is sadly not in the actual film...
    Al: Hey! Where're we going?
    Dirk: I dunno, but we're making great time!
  • Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Played straight with Kazim not killing Dirk and Al, averted with Frank.
  • Workaholic: The movie tries to establish Eva Rojas as such.