Amman: 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," Smith told a news conference earlier this year in Jordan's capital Amman.
"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 between 10-25 percent for a minimum of USD1 million (0.9 million euros) spent in the kingdom, as well as tax exemptions on equipment imported for filming.
But filmmakers also come to Jordan to shoot because they are attracted to the diverse and rich landscape they find in the desert kingdom, according to Bakri. 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 archaeological city of Petra, famed for its ornate temples cut into rock. The stunning and well-preserved sandstone facade of Petra's Al-Khazneh (Treasury), which some say dates back to the first century BC, featured as the entrance to a temple housing the Holy Grail.
Parts of Disney's Aladdin remake was filmed in Wadi Rum — "the natural choice" for us, director Guy Ritchie told reporters in Amman in May. Naomi Scott, who played Jasmine opposite Smith, said: "it is beautiful."
"Like Will said it makes perfect sense… when you are in an environment like this" it helps enforce the character the actor is trying to portray.