Jordan plays starring role

Travel | Kamal Taha 18 Dec 2019

The lunar landscape of Jordan's Wadi Rum valley gets a starring role this week when the next and final episode of the Star Wars saga opens to global audiences.

The spectacular desert, with its shimmering red sands, majestic dunes and stunning rock formations, was also where Peter O'Toole was filmed riding his horse in the 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia.

From Matt Damon in The Martian to Will Smith in Disney's Aladdin, Jordanian authorities have worked to ensure the country's diverse landscape features in some of Hollywood's biggest blockbusters.

"When you travel to locations, everything changes inside of you," said Smith.

"When we landed in Jordan all of a sudden you begin to embody the feelings of the characters, like when we were in Wadi Rum. It was absolutely spectacular."

Jordan's Royal Film Commission was set up in 2003 to promote the country as a "huge open-air studio," says its managing director Mohannad Al-Bakri.

To entice foreign filmmakers, the commission - chaired by Prince Ali, one of King Abdullah II's half brothers - offers financial incentives.

Production companies can enjoy a cash rebate of 10 to 25 percent for a minimum of US$1 million (HK$7.8 million) spent in the kingdom, as well as tax exemptions on equipment imported for filming.

But filmmakers also shoot in Jordan because they are attracted to the diverse and rich landscape they find in the desert kingdom.

Over the years, dozens of foreign and Arab movies have been filmed in the country, including Hollywood classics such as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Steven Spielberg's 1989 movie starring Harrison Ford brought to the big screen the magic of the rose-red city of Petra, famed for its ornate temples cut into rock. The sandstone facade of Petra's Al-Khazneh ("The Treasury") featured as the entrance to a temple housing the Holy Grail.

Parts of Aladdin were filmed in Wadi Rum - "the natural choice" for us, said director Guy Ritchie.

Naomi Scott, who played Jasmine, said: "It is beautiful." Coactor Mena Massoud, who plays Aladdin in the fantasy-romance movie, also praised the wonders of Wadi Rum. "There is such a peace out there in the desert. There is nothing like it," he said.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was also filmed in the breathtaking desert, often known as the Valley of the Moon, before the location was again chosen for the saga's latest and final episode, The Rise of Skywalker.

Munir Nassar, managing director of Zaman Project Management, a production services company in Jordan, said it took five months to prepare for the filming of the last Star Wars installment. "When the actors came [to Jordan], filming was completed in 12 days," the ex-tourism minister said.

His company was also involved in the filming of four other movies in Jordan, including Mission to Mars, providing everything from meals to hotel bookings and transport.

"The unique, timeless and diverse landscape of Jordan, along with its highly motivated production crews, makes it an ideal destination for filming," Prince Ali is quoted as saying on the film commission's website.

Bakri pointed to additional Jordanian locations used by filmmakers. The picturesque town of Madaba has been used to replicate old Greek villages while the Azraq wetland natural reserve east of Amman has served to recreate South Asian regions.

Iraq war film The Hurt Locker and the thriller Zero Dark Thirty, about CIA operatives tracking down Osama bin Laden, were also filmed in Jordan.

Agence France-Presse

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