Over the last few years I have become increasingly aware of an odd phenomenon. Whenever the movie I’m watching is set in London, my home town, I become totally preoccupied by the locations on screen- do I know it, have I been there, is that continuity accurate?
It’s very distracting.
The obvious landmarks are by the by, boring even, but here’s Jason Bourne walking across that footbridge near Waterloo Station, there’s Hugh Grant mumbling his way into Andie MacDowell’s affections at that place on the South Bank, and what the hell kind of route are these people taking across the City in 28 Weeks Later? They’re all over the shop! And look, look, that’s Crouch End where I (used to) live and looklooklook that’s the road I (used to) live on, all overrun with loads of zombies and a Simon Pegg!
But it’s one thing when the movie comes to where you are, quite another when you go to the where the movie is. Or was.
The current and most obvious example of this, of course, are the flocks of people heading to Middle Earth on their holidays, aka New Zealand. A trend unlikely to abate anytime soon with the new Hobbit movies set to dominate the box office in the next few years.
A similar thing took off after the film adaptation of Alex Garland’s bestseller The Beach. Every back packer and gap year traveller had their well-thumbed, dog-eared copy and every teary teenage send off at Heathrow foreshadowed a determined intention to find Leo DiCaprio’s idyllic island before the money ran out.
The little Greek island from Mama Mia did rather well out if it’s role in the Abba musical too.
But why is this? It isn’t as though we’re expecting to run into Frodo or Gandalf when we get there, or fall in love with Virginie Lodoyen / a young, less frowny Leo. And in all the time I lived in Crouch End, I never once walked the dark streets in either hope or fear that I might be torn limb from limb by a ravening army of the undead. Although I did used to see Simon Pegg drinking in my local occasionally.
Is it the glamour and glitz of our favourite movie that makes us want to taste that experience ourselves? To say next time we watch it, ‘I’ve been there’? Or is it the ultimate confluence of the two things in life that most encapsulate escapism?
It’s not a new concept of course, nor unrecognised. It cannot be but a few years since I saw huge posters on the underground advertising tourism to America. The strap line went something like: ‘You’ve seen the movie, now visit the set’.
And what a set. The New York City of Scorsese, De Niro and Pacino, Woody Allen’s Manhattan, Carrie Bradshaw’s sexy city. Ferris Bueller’s Chicago, latterly the streets stalked by The Dark Knight, doubling as it did in part, for Gotham.
Monument Valley and the wild west in every cowboy film you ever saw makes for some extraordinary scenery, and there in the middle of the desert, Las Vegas.
Vegas seems to exist for two purposes: gambling and movies. Movies about Vegas. Clooney and Pitt make it look glamorous and sexy in Ocean’s 11 (12, 13) and Casino added several layers of grit, violence, torture and Joe Pesci. Those Hangover boys weren’t exactly setting a trend with their amnesiac stag do antics, but they’ll have hardly put people off.
But it isn’t just the ‘I was there’ that gets people going to the movie destinations, but finding the fantasy too. Petra, in Jordan, managed the unique trick of upstaging the one and only Indiana Jones (and his dad, James Bond) whilst the hot sandy expanse of Tunisia may only be in North Africa, but is also a galaxy far, far away.
Some of these places seem at once to be essential parts of the world to see, and at the same time, otherworldly. And in no small part because of the mystique lent them by the silver screen.
Talking of James Bond, he is surely the best travelled of all movie characters. Bond films aren’t Bond films without three or four amazing locations and covering 007′s globe trotting would be a blog post in itself.
Of course, it’s not just the tourist industry that entices travellers to visit their favourite celluloid spots (or perhaps nowadays that would be digitised destinations? In Real 3D no less). Movie studios have long been tuned into the idea – Disneyland anyone? Or Universal Studios in Orlando, the new Harry Potter theme park here in Blighty moreover – that people want to go to, to be IN, these movies in as real as sense as they can.
But where’s the safety-belted, height-restricted, long-queueing, expensive-ticketed fun in that?
So I wonder. Which came first and who follows whom? Are there truly hordes of people filing out of the multi-plex and into the travel agent to book their next trip? Or do the cameras go to where the action is, to try to capture some of the buzz, the zeitgeist? To keep up with all those restless travellers and discover in their footsteps the places in the world we all should visit, the very latest and coolest must-see spots? But from our sofas and cinema seats, for now, until we can get there too someday.
by Rob Young
Rob has recently written and published his first book ‘Gatecrasher’. It’s a cracking read and available through Amazon.