Movies are all about depicting the adventures of actors and actresses in exotic locations. While the people are real, characters and locations are often not. On occasions when films are actually shot at certain locations, the results can be spectacular. Presenting the ten most exotic locations captured on film, some real and some which are make-believe, but play their part to perfection.
Monuriki, Fiji – Cast Away
Its not easy to find an uninhabited island these days, especially not when there are more than 6 billion people vying for space on Earth! Yet, in Tom Hanks’s film Cast Away, he managed to find himself one beautiful tropical island with absolutely no trace of human habitation. Or so we were made to think.
Monuriki is one of the Mamanuca archipelago – a group of around 20 volcanic islands belonging to and located off the coast of the main Fijian island of Viti Levu. Although viewers were given the impression that Monuriki is alone and isolated, visitors are able to clearly see several other islands of the Mamanuca group from Monuriki’s beautiful beaches. The popularity of Cast Away has resulted in a steady stream of tourists to the island, which is not particularly hard to get to (or get off like in the movie) once you arrive in Fiji.
Sweethaven Village, Malta – Popeye
Popeye Village or Sweethaven Village, located at Anchor Bay in the north-west corner of the Mediterranean island of Malta, has grown from its days as the film set of the 1980 musical production Popeye, to one of the major tourist attractions in this island destination.
When Elzie Segar’s 1929 cartoon strip took life with Robin Williams playing the lovable spinach-eating sailor, little did director Robert Altman realize that the set he created would go down in history as one of the most elaborate sets ever to be created at an outdoor location.
Sweethaven, or Popeye Village, retains its original character but has grown into a theme park for children featuring shows, rides and a museum. Sweethaven does double duty in December when, for a few days at least, it becomes Santa’s Toy Town.
Maya Bay, Thailand – The Beach
This Hollywood flick that released in 2000, stars the dishy Leonardo DiCaprio and some of the loveliest scenery ever to cross the silver screen. The setting of The Beach is Koh Phi Phi Leh island, located in the Andaman Sea off the coast of Thailand’s Krabi province. The island is roughly crescent shaped and its steep sided limestone bluffs shelter Maya Bay and some of the most pristine tropical beaches on Earth.
The filmmakers, 20th Century Fox, took a lot of flak for altering the natural contours of Koh Phi Phi Leh island’s beaches and were sued by the Thai government for despoiling the setting.
Ecologists feel that the 2004 tsunami that swept the island drastically improved its looks for the high waves cleaned up the beach and removed much of the landscaping that the Fox production team had added.
Abu Dhabi, UAE – Sex and the City 2
After showcasing Mexico in Sex and the City, the sequel showed the girls – Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte put in a little bikini and fruity cocktail time in the exotic desert paradise of Abu Dhabi. The much-hyped sequel to the 2008 hit showed the femme fatales kicking up their high heels in the capital of the Emirates… until the Sheik who invited them regrets doing so after seeing way too much camel toe!
Ironically, both SATC flicks have been banned from theaters in the UAE and the producers were refused permission to film anywhere in the Emirates after the government read the script. What purports to be Abu Dhabi onscreen is actually Marrakech, Morocco (dunes, check; Arabs, check). Legs are legal in Morocco, you see, thereby making life (and filming) much easier for fashionable foursome.
Salzburg, Austria – The Sound of Music
While Julie Andrews sang ‘The Hills are Alive’ in her mellow intone, moviegoers were dazzled by spectacular Alpine scenery that was blazoned across the screen in the blockbuster film The Sound of Music. Most of the outdoor scenes of the film were shot at Salzburg, Austria and Bavaria in Southern Germany. The timeless beauty of the snowy mountains and lush meadows, liberally sprinkled with Edelweiss, provided a stirring contrast to the darker moments as Austria, the Von Trapp family and the world slid agonizingly into war.
Petra, Jordan – Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
Though filmed at a variety of locations, the penultimate scenes of 1989′s Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade take place in the ancient and abandoned city of Petra in Jordan. Specifically, inside The Treasury (or Al Khazneh), an enormous Greek-columned building carved out of a canyon’s pink sandstone walls by hand that was used as the entry to the temple housing the Holy Grail.
Though only the exterior of The Treasury is featured in the film the eerie silence and palpable great age of Petra resonate through the film’s climactic scenes.
Ko Tapu, Thailand – Man with the Golden Gun
Popularly referred to as James Bond Island, Khao Phing Kan, a pair of islands off the west coast of Thailand, was where antagonist Francisco Scarmanga based his hideout in the 1974 Bond flick Man with the Golden Gun. About 40 meters from the shore of the island is Ko Tapu, a 20 meter tall islet of limestone that was shown several times in the film, hence becoming part of the Bond moniker that their original names are now rarely used by tourists and locals.
After the release of the film the island became a popular tourist destination, gradually contaminating its pristine beauty with litter. In 1981 the island became the most famous part of the newly established Ao Phang Nga Marine National Park and since 1988 tourist boats have been forbidden from approaching Ko Tapu in an effort to stop erosion of the limestone rock that might eventually result in its collapse.
Glod, Romania – Borat
When Sacha Baron Cohen wanted a village to depict the impoverished hamlet of Kuzcek, Kazakhstan, he chose Glod in Romania. The 2006 mockumentary film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (or just Borat, for short) featured the miserable village of Kuzcek, Kazakhstan, where Borat was born and raised – possibly by wolves. In actual fact the British actor and comedian could not find a suitable Kazakh village, selecting instead the gypsy hamlet of Glod.
Romania has at least 5 villages that go by the name of Glod, which is nothing to boast about since ‘glod’ in Romanian means mud. As one might expect, Glod was never a tourist attraction and since the villagers are up in arms (chasing off TV crews with pitchforks) over Cohen’s exaggeration of their occupations and lifestyles, it will probably stay that way!
Lhasa, Tibet – Seven Years in Tibet
Now here’s another film that’s been in the news for the location it was filmed at.
Seven Years in Tibet is the story of an Austrian mountain climber who travels to the country in 1939 to climb Nanga Parbat peak and through a series of misadventures, trials and tribulations finally returns home having gained much wisdom and an appreciation for the strength and resilience of the Tibetan people.
China banned the director and lead stars – Jean-Jacques Annaud, Brad Pitt and David Thewlis from ever entering their country again, because the movie portrayed Chinese soldiers in bad light. Also in dispute was the use of “Chinese Embassy in Tibet” and the term “occupation of Tibet” in the movie, that didn’t sit well with them.
However, Annaud had the last laugh in 1999 when he suddenly revealed that most of the movie had been filmed in Argentina, Austria, Canada and Nepal. Only about 20 minutes of footage in the final film had actually been shot at Tibet!
Ngong Hills, Kenya – Out of Africa
“I had a farm in Africa, at the foot of the Ngong Hills,” the story begins and goes on to describe the colours, the scents, the shapes and the essence of Africa. Out of Africa, starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, features the idyllic scenery of Kenya’s Ngong Hills, southwest of the country’s capital Nairobi. The Ngong Hills rise up to 2460 meters (8070 feet) above sea level and there is a walking trail along the ridge.
The area around the Ngong Hills was a favourite of colonial settlers and plantation owners such as Karen Blixen, played by Streep in the 1985 film. The four peaks appear in several scenes during the movie. Some stately homes located close to the hills dating back from colonial times have been preserved, including Karen Blixen’s house (now the Karen Blixen Museum).