Last night I watched The Omen (1976) for the first time and was quite surprised at what passed for horror in the 1970s as well as how tinny the cars looked. But what made me sit up and tweet my dismay was the assertion that Megiddo (Biblical Armageddon) was south of Jerusalem. Well, I thought I’d passed it on the bus from Tel Aviv to Nazareth, and the map agrees that I remember correctly: Megiddo is way north of Jerusalem.
So the Omen joins several films that engage in what I call Cavalier Geography. These are films that play havoc with real locations in a rather crude manner; they haven’t even paid a researcher to look at the map. And, surprisingly, I can’t find my list anywhere on the Net.
Except of course the biggie, the granddaddy of them all: Krakatoa, East of Java (1969). Every film gaffe list starts with it, because the blooper’s in the title. Krakatoa lies west of Java, but the producers obviously thought that as Java ain’t in the US, no one would check. Yet, have you heard anything about the highly regarded Gladiator (2000) – swimming in historical and other inaccuracies – that places the Colosseum next to the river Tiber?
Fake sunrise is something that particularly bugs me especially since the film crew have obviously visited the location and should know better. In Mission Impossible (1996), the Prague sequence is crowned with a sunrise over Prague Castle, which ahem lies to the west of the city. And what can I say for Troy? Among the many Homeric inaccuracies in the plot which I can forget, there is a sunrise over the Aegean (to the west of the Turkish coast), which I can’t swallow.
Talking of sunrise, the excellent Before Sunrise (1995) was one of my best films until I moved to Vienna and decided to visit the Cemetery of the Nameless where Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy casually end up after a stroll in the city centre. The cemetery is in Alberner Hafen and it took me two trains and two buses to reach, as well as a considerable walk through abandoned warehouses at the edge of town – not as romantic a ramble as in the film.
But if we start mixing and matching locations, let’s not forget Hostel II (2007) where the Slovakian-based backpackers have a quick dip in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon for relaxation, before returning to Bratislava to be hacked and butchered a few hours later. Or Wild Orchid (1989) – by the time I watched it on TV, I had been to Brazil enough times to be surprised by a particular drive from Rio via the Rebouças tunnel into what seemed to me to be a typical Bahian landscape several thousand miles to the north. Oh, to be Mickey Rourke and sweep through time and space like Captain Kirk!
As a kid I swallowed every improbability in The Sound of Music (1965), but what hit me, when I was an adult and a traveller, was that Salzburg is nowhere near the Swiss border. One would have to cross the Tyrolean Alps sideways via Innsbruck, a trip that would have taken days seventy-odd years ago. Frankly, if I wanted to escape in a hurry from Salzburg, I’d head south to Italy which, as I researched it, is what the original von Trapps did. But leaving Hitler to find sanctuary with Mussolini? Unacceptably complex and politically incorrect, so neutral Switzerland would do.
Maybe this is the place for me to carp about the BBC’s Frozen Planet (2011) a fantastic series which will, however, confuse many a schoolboy, moving as it does on the globe from the Arctic to the Antarctic and back again in the same season, as if they both had summer or winter at the same time. Would a ‘six months later in the Antarctic’ be such a confusing continuity overhead, compared to the bewilderment it has undoubtedly spread?
I’ll end up with two films which were so obviously filmed in a different location than where they purport to be that they are laughable. I do actually love Eurotrip (2004), one of my guilty pleasures, and part of the fun is to spot signs of the fake location. In fact, I decided it is Prague, Prague and Prague again, even if it pretends to be Amsterdam, Berlin or Paris. I think it is only the driving on the left that spared London the honour of being shot in Prague as well. But I will finish with Tom Cruise again and Mission Impossible III (2006), hopefully the last MI instalment to mix up locations with its grand presentation of Valencia’s Fallas festival in, well, Seville..