They might beg to differ, but I think actors have a terrific life. They get to do what they love all the time, and more often than not, they get to travel the world. While location shooting lends the charm that a prosthetic set refuses to offer, it doesn’t come without its set of challenges – crowd management, weather, accessibility and so on. But when you get to walk through massive colonnades, or pose on a snow-covered slope, I guess every constraint is worth overcoming. Of course, retakes could be annoying, but hey, it’s certainly better than CGI. All things considered, there are some locales that I would trade my right hand for, like the ones below…
The Lord of the Rings: In all honesty, I had no idea New Zealand was this beautiful before The Lord of the Rings hit the screen. From hobbit holes in the Waikato town of Matamata to the breathtaking Glenorchy (at the end of the Lake Wakatipu), the LOTR trilogy (and later The Hobbit trilogy) portrayed the wide range of contrasting topography, seen through a filtered lens. While these landscapes have histories of their own, it is quite another thing to be able to walk in the imaginary footsteps of Bilbo or Frodo Baggins.
The Sound of Music: Alps and music. It couldn’t get better. Do not complain about the soppy nature of the movie (I love it to bits, and admit it, you do too). The sweetness of the plot goes well with the sweeping meadows and ice-capped peaks glistening in the navy-blue night in Austria. The Captain’s manor is quite a site in itself, replete with gardens and benches and a greenhouse and access to a river bank. One sympathises with his intentions of not leaving station.
Inception: Not all of it. But certainly the Pont de Bir-Hakeim. Crossing the Seine river in France, this features first where Ellen Page’s character begins to discover the art of clay-modelling reality in the subconscious, and runs onto Mal (Marion Cottilard). Besides the obvious beauty of the architecture, the scene in itself is singularly revealing, in terms of the scope of the art of inception, and I doubt if I shall ever be able to cross the bridge of think about it, without being scared of being stabbed.
Amelie: My ignorance of French served the purpose of allowing me to glimpse at the quaint (albeit sepia-tinted) Paris. The city in itself needs no further inspiration to visit, though the quintessentially Parisian Café des 2 Moulins appears such a cozy gossip corner. Happily, the café actually exists, though I doubt if its goings on are hardly that interesting. Besides that, the pretty alleys and the closing scene of the couple speeding through the city are far too romantic to be missed.
Bourne Trilogy: There are several shots which are the perfect opposite of the warm glow of Amelie, but nothing beats Tangiers. No, I don’t really want to be chased by a hitman and jump roofs, but it seemed like an intimate, bustling city with the buildings having nice, long windows people can jump through. And yes, the most unseemly yet the sensitive scene in the trilogy was the ending to Bourne Identity, at a scooter-renting outlet in a Grecian island. That would be an ideal job!
The Grand Budapest Hotel: I did not know that the uncomfortably pink-painted Grand Budapest was shot in a departmental store about to be razed. I mean, who wanted to reduce to rubble the magnificent staircases and extremely old-school balconies anyway? The store – its called Gorlitzer Warenhous – located in Germany, looks stocky and pretty unimpressive on the outside (but that is no reason to demolish it, is it?). It is currently under renovation, though I would very much like it to stay the same as we saw it on screen – nausea-inducing pink, deserted, manned by a weird staff, and maybe, Ralph Fienne’s Gustave striding around in a lordly fashion, keeping the place in a tight control of the macabre.
Harry Potter series: The chances of any direct association with the magical community are getting dimmer by the day, and I realise that the only way to feel some sort of kinship would be to visit all the structures in England that inspired the on-screen version of Hogwarts: The Christ Church College and Cathedral, Gloucester Cathedral, Lacock Abbey Bodleian Library and so on. The trouble is, like the Grand Budapest, there is no complete Hogwarts; the whole castle is an amalgamation of a lot of architectural aspects of a lot of buildings. And the most fascinating feature of the castle – the Great Hall – is after all a set, as there is yet a structure to be developed, that carries a roof that mirrors the sky above.
Casio Royale/Quantum of Solace/Skyfall/Spectre: Recent Bond movies are an eye-candy in so many ways. One of the reasons is the terrific locations as the imagery started getting better from Casino Royale onwards. Be it the winding Mary Valley Heritage Railway or the picturesque Venice, or even the desolate sinkholes, every location is pretty exotic. Things were notched up with Skyfall though, not with the bleak London scenery, but with the even bleaker Scottish landscape and the eerily welcoming manor and the most unwelcoming moors. With Spectre, a rough Euro trip was on the platter, and nearly all the best spots too. One can’t complain.
While good stories need not necessarily be set in visually impressive locations – think Rainman, Shawshank Redemption, Silver Linings Playbook – but when they do, a good site adds to the charm of watching movies. Some stories deliberately use scenic beauty to augment the visual offerings, others – like The Godfather Trilogy – employ it as a supplement to the narrative. One way or another, difficult as it is, logistically speaking, of shooting outside a studio, for those actors with wanderlust, this must be a dream come true.