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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Breck Eisner: [Falling, swooping objects] This occurs several times throughout the film - during the well scene with Eva Rojas's chemical flare and her associate's hat, as well as the helicopter landing pad light during the fistfight atop Massarde's solar energy plant.