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Trivia / Sahara (2005)

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  • Box Office Bomb: Budget, $241.1 million (this includes the $81 million marketing and distribution campaign). Box office, $119,269,486.
  • Creator Backlash: The second film based off a Clive Cussler novel after Raise the Titanic 25 years prior, and ultimately, a similar outcome minus killing a major production company: Cussler disowned the final product and legal waves emerged.
  • Creator Killer: This film and its infamous production shot down the career of Breck Eisner (the son of ex-Disney CEO Michael); he didn't direct another theatrically released film for 5 years and didn't do a tentpole again until The Last Witch Hunter, and he hasn't attempted a film with a budget Sahara's size. The producers, who wound up in legal stormy weather with Cussler, also struggled for the rest of the decade.
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  • Shoot the Money: Averted when a plane crash that took up 45 seconds of film time and cost $2 million to film was cut to make room for the Product Placement scenes.
  • Stillborn Franchise: This film's production and lawsuit from Cussler crushed a Dirk Pitt movie series out of the gates AGAIN.
  • Troubled Production: A classic example in the film business.
    • After the mess that had been Raise the Titanic! 20 years earlier, Clive Cussler had refused to sell the movie rights to any of his books, not just the Pitt ones. 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. Like Lew Grade in the 1970s, he saw the possibility for a film series in the Pitt books.
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    • Cussler, remembering the earlier experience, not only got Anschutz to shell out $10 million for the rights to his 1992 Pitt novel Sahara, about a search for lost Confederate gold in Africa, 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.
    • And just as it had during Raise the Titanic, that provision led to a huge and expensive revolving door of writers and directors. 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). Before long, 10 different writers had been paid almost $4 million for their services, without getting any closer to a script everyone was happy enough with to start filming (much less casting—Cussler actually bragged that he turned down Tom Cruise for the part as "too short").
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    • Finally (or so they thought) 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 Cussler's creative authority, kept telling him Cussler disliked that versionnote , he quit. Breck Eisner, son of Disney head Michael, replaced him. Despite his parentage and the familiarity it gave him with this kind of moviemaking, he had never directed a big-budget film himself. Strife over the script and casting continued, with Cussler later alleged to have used racist and antisemitic slurs to refer to some of the counterparties during arguments.
    • There were other pressures on the script. Anschutz would not fund any film with even a possibility of getting an R rating, which meant that some scenes 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 studio was also securing Product Placement deals, resulting in scenes being added that had little purpose save for making Jeep look good or having the characters drink certain brands of liquor.
    • After three years of this, filming finally got underway in London with a script credited to four writers. Cussler had had it by this point, and blasted the film on his latest Pitt book tour. Before it was even released he filed suit, alleging Anschutz and the other producers had never intended to honor 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 (and that wouldn't be the end of the damage from that one—see below).
    • Meanwhile, on set, the costs of the tortured writing process were becoming apparent. Expensive action sequences, such as a $2 million plane crash, ultimately had to be cut from the finished film so that contracts with advertisers who had paid millions to have their products featured could be honored. The budget ballooned to twice its original size, well over $100 million. That meant despite winning its opening weekend and doing well otherwise despite poor reviews, the film would still lose money. Just as had happened with Raise the Titanic, the Dirk Pitt franchise was again dead after one film (a sequel was canceled). Eisner has only directed two feature films since then, 2010's remake of George Romero's The Crazies and 2015's The Last Witch Hunter.
    • The coup de grâce came two years later—when 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 labor 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 labeled as bribes to Moroccan officials. some of which may have violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

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