Africa Desert Is Bad Guy in "Flight of the Phoenix"

Stefan Lovgren in Los Angeles
for National Geographic News
December 17, 2004

"Location, location, location" may be the mantra of real estate agents. But it also holds true for Hollywood filmmakers like John Moore, the director of the new action-adventure flick The Flight of the Phoenix.

"I'm a big believer in locations," the Irish director said in a telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles. "I don't want to shoot in studios. Then it becomes a job and not an adventure."

But as the world grows smaller, exotic locales may be harder to come by. For his movie about a group of plane-crash survivors stranded in Mongolia's Gobi, Moore needed a boundless desert landscape untouched by humans.

With the real Gobi bureaucratically off limits, Moore found what he was looking for half a world away—in the vast sand dunes of Namibia on the southwest coast of Africa.

"We had to sell the idea that in the world today, which is filled with GPS and cell phones, you can still get lost somewhere," Moore said. "The physical challenge was to find a place like that."


In the movie, which opens today in theaters across North America, the survivors of the crash—facing a dwindling supply of food and water and realizing that their chances of being rescued are slim—decide to build a new plane from the undamaged parts of the wrecked cargo plane.

Moore scouted locations in Morocco and Australia before settling on Namibia, which has the oldest and highest sand dunes in the world. The Namib Desert stretches for hundreds of miles along the coast.

With fewer than two million people in a country larger than Germany and the United Kingdom combined, Namibia is the most sparsely populated country in the world.

"As soon as we got there I knew that's where we needed to be," Moore said.

Ironically, the location that Moore decided to use for the crash site, where most of the film takes place, was only a 20 minute-drive from the coastal town of Swakopmund.

"We wanted the film to feel like [the characters] were lost at sea," Moore said. "We used a lot of aerial shots to constantly remind people that it was like looking at a little raft floating in the vast ocean."

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