Drawing a Line in the Sand

Looking for a film music gem? 2005’s SAHARA fits bill.

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!


  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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