By George Isaac*
For decades, Wadi Rum, or as some prefer to call it “Valley of the Moon”, captivated filmmakers from all over the world. Sir Ridley Scott chose it to represent Mars in the Oscar-nominated film “The Martian”, where Matt Damon plays a Mark Watney, an American astronaut, who is mistakenly presumed dead and left behind on Mars. “We shot exteriors at Wadi Rum,” explained director Scott in an interview published in Space.com. “To me, it’s the Eighth Wonder of the World. And I didn’t do anything but shoot it at the right time, from the right positions, then added a bit of red dust to everything. So, our film world looks pretty accurate — at least I’m hoping Mars looks a little like that.” Although Damon earned a lead actor Academy Award nomination for his role, Wadi Rum deserved, according to many, an Oscar for best dramatic location!
It wasn’t Scott’s first film to be shot in Wadi Rum, and for sure not his last. “Prometheus”, a science fiction film that grossed over $403 million worldwide, was partly shot there in 2012. Yet again, in 2017, Scott returned to film “All the Money in the World” that tells the story of Paul Getty, who built an oil empire and became one of the richest people on earth in the seventies. It follows with the kidnapping of his 16-year old grandson, John Paul Getty III, and the desperate attempts by his mother to get the billionaire grandfather to pay the ransom.
Mark Wahlberg, who plays the role of Fletcher Chase — an ex-CIA agent who helped strike a deal with the kidnappers — was amazed by his short visit to Jordan, describing the “incredible setting” of Wadi Rum as “spectacular”. He found working with the Jordanian crew “fantastic, as they are extremely experienced, very knowledgeable and very helpful”.
Three space thrillers preceded “The Martian”: “Red Plant”, “Mission to Mars” and “The Last Days of Mars”.
Although many films were shot in the past decades at Wadi Rum, “Lawrence of Arabia” – David Lean’s work of art – remains in every film lover’s mind. This epic historical drama, based on the life experience of T.E. Lawrence during World War I, was nominated for ten Oscars at the 35th Academy Awards in 1963.
In 1991, “Lawrence of Arabia” was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and selected for preservation in the United States Library of Congress National Film Registry. In 1998, the American Film Institute placed it 5th on their 100 Years, 100 Movies list, and 7th on their 2007 updated list. In 1999, the British Film Institute named the film the 3rd greatest British film of all time.
In 2016, Wadi Rum was considered an ideal background for the first installment of the Star Wars anthology series: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”.
Take a look at some of the major movies filmed in Wadi Rum:
All the Money in the World (2017)
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
The Martian (2015)
The Last Days on Mars (2013)
Prometheus I (2012)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Mission to Mars (2000)
Red Planet (2000)
Lawrence of Arabia (1962)
George Isaac is an online editor and marketing specialist at The Royal Film Commission – Jordan.