Drawing a Line in the Sand

What better way to kick off the With a Little Help From My Friends series than with this unlikely gem from 2005—SAHARA.

Clive Cussler’s Dirk Pitt was the charismatic star of nearly a dozen bestselling adventure novels before Sahara hit bookstores in 1992. After the poor box office for another Pitt adventure—1980’s RAISE THE TITANIC—it’s no surprise it took even longer for SAHARA to hit the screen. And yet, if you turn off your brain for a couple of hours and just go with it, an enjoyable time can be had as Dirk searches for a long-lost Civil War battleship deep in the heart of the desert while battling a merciless local dictator. Matthew McConaghey and sidekick Steve Zahn seem to be having a blast while Penelope Cruz appears lost, as she often does in English-language films. But for our purposes, the primary draw is Clint Mansell’s rousing action score.

Instead of the tortured, indie lives of Darren Aronofsky’s films, Mansell finds himself at the musical helm of a big-budget Hollywood flick. The sand-swept locale allows Mansell to color the music with African, Middle Eastern and other ethnic influences. Whether it’s “moaning woman,” African chants, a series of bent notes or a particular percussion combo, Mansell never overplays his hand with the musical ethnicity. He knows the key to this score is action.

Sahara – “Ironclad”

From the very beginning, the score features one exciting, balls-to-the-wall action cue after another. And, as such, the music propels the ludicrous plot past any holes it may contain. A syncopated five-note figure becomes a memorable brass calling card, while Mansell tips his hat to John Barry, giving the motif James Bond heroics in the trumpets. (Now wouldn’t that be an interesting choice for a future Bond film…)

Sahara – “Hold Tight!”

SAHARA has something for everyone—memorable themes, interesting ethnic instrumentation and thrilling action cues that never wear out their welcome. This is the Clint Mansell score for fans who normally don’t like Mansell. Give it a shot. You may be pleasantly surprised!

About Jim Lochner

Jim has been writing about film music for over a decade. He holds a Bachelor of Music from The University of Texas at Arlington and a Master of Music from The University of Texas (Austin), both in Clarinet Performance. He has written soundtrack CD liner notes for Intrada, Varèse Sarabande Records, Film Score Monthly, La-La Land Records and Disques Cinemusique. Jim has been a bimonthly guest on BBC-Kent’s Drive Home at the Movies radio program and has been interviewed by a number of online and print outlets, including The Toronto Globe and Mail and the Los Angeles Times. Jim served as the managing editor of Film Score Monthly Online ( and is currently writing a book on Charlie Chaplin's film music. For more information, visit


  1. Good to see some love for this one! It’s quite unlike any of Mansell’s other work; Nicholas Dodd’s fingerprints are all over it.

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