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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What’s the most egregious fake movie or TV location you’ve seen recently?

It was almost exactly a year ago when we talked about whether it’s important for a movie to be shot in the place where it’s set. This was inspired by Knowing, which had just opened, and which was set in part in New York City but was shot in Melbourne, and it showed. The comments there ended up noting lots of bad examples of movie and TV places that weren’t what they were supposed to be.

Now that a full year of movies and TV have passed, it’s time to revisit the issue. This time it’s prompted by last week’s episode of Castle, which is set in New York City but — surprise! — is shot in Los Angeles. This often results in the kind of absurdities that are very typical of anything that’s supposed to be NYC but isn’t. Castle’s apartment, for instance, is huge even by rich-New Yorker standards, but at least he is a very rich bestselling author. In last week’s episode, however, we see Beckett’s apartment, which is so ridiculous I laughed out loud: even if she were at the top of the NYPD pay grades, she could be given over her entire paycheck to rent and still not cover that place. That she is living like that would have to be evidence, in the real New York, that she’s on the take somewhere.
But even that isn’t what made me say, “I have got to write about this.” Last week’s Castle (the story of which continues tonight) opens with a dead body in Grand Central Station… except that wasn’t Grand Central Station that Beckett and Castle turned up at. (Was it L.A.’s Union Station? I think so, but I don’t know my L.A. train stations that well.) It’s one thing to pretend that Beckett lives in an apartment that no middle-class New Yorker could ever afford, because most non-New Yorkers already have unrealistic ideas about how New Yorkers live thanks to movies and especially TV. But surely everyone knows what Grand Central Station looks like, it’s been featured in movies so often.

Anyway: What’s the most egregious fake movie or TV location you’ve seen recently?

Feel free to note locations that actually work surprisingly well, too: I was struck by how right Remember Me gets how New Yorkers live: even the rich people have small spaces, for instance.

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • Michael

    While it’s now been too long since the show is on the air for me to recall any specific examples, watching Frasier after living in Seattle since 1992 made for some amusing moments of this sort now and again…

    And while it’s not really FAKE, I did have to laugh in the recent Sherlock Holmes movie when a short foot chase from beneath Parliament puts them all climbing up the Tower Bridge some two minutes (if that) later. :)

  • RyanT

    Wow. As soon as I read your question, the same episode of Castle was the first thing to pop into my head. That Grand Central scene was just so bad.

  • I can think of a few films that pull tricks like that, Michael. The first one that springs to mind is Death on the Nile, which would have you believe that the pyramids of Giza and the temples of Luxor – in reality hundreds of miles apart – are just a stone’s throw from each other.

    You have to admire Mike Myers for that line in The Spy Who Shagged Me: “Isn’t it funny how the English countryside looks nothing at all like southern California?”

  • Cathy

    My beef is with a recent episode of Bones set in the desert near Roswell, New Mexico. I didn’t have to much a problem with the California desert filling in for the NM desert, I can’t expect them to fly everyone out just to film a desert scene. But the thing that made me laugh was when a character commented that they saw a light coming from “about two miles away” and Bones said something like “Why that would be in Mexico!” There are about 150 miles of mountains, desert, and Texas between Roswell and the Mexican border. The entire plot hung on alien enthusiasts witnessing illegal activities over the border in Mexico while looking for ET in Roswell…too bad the writers didn’t have a map.

  • Christina

    I thought it had been well established that Beckett had family money but was “slumming” it as a cop because of what happened to her mother. That’s why I didn’t bat an eye when she wore a Herve Leger dress to an event one episode.

  • Drave

    I find Leverage trying to pass Portland off as Boston to be particularly egregious, but it doesn’t actually bother me because I love seeing familiar landmarks on television. Plus, the show is just too adorable to hate.

  • Josh C.

    I saw The Blind Side last night (thankfully, it was a free showing, since the movie was tripe), and the first scene starts in a ghetto, showing rundown old buildings, homeless people, loiterers, and various other types of unseemly black people. Then, we move to the white part of town, with freshly mowed grass, opulent lighting, lovely greenery, wonderful architecture, and just a few people in the background commuting by foot and bike to work, like Good Citizens, unlike those lazy negroes.

  • Tully M

    It’s not recent, but the most egregious example I’ve ever seen is from the movie ‘Fear Strikes Out’, the Anthony Perkins biopic of mentally ill Red Sox outfielder Jimmy Piersall. One scene supposedly set at Boston’s Fenway Park had palm trees in the outfield, where the Green Monster should have been. It’s a truly bad flick, just a tad below the William Bendix Babe Ruth biography.

  • MK

    Reno 911. I actually live in Reno and apart from shots in the credits of this northern Nevada city, it is so clear that the whole thing is shot in L.A. I think the producers went to Vegas and figured it would be the same here– really hot, kind of like L.A. We’re half an hour from Lake Tahoe and it snows. Way too cold for palm trees. I still love the show, though. The wild inaccuracy is part of the charm.

  • Jason M.

    On “The Office” a few weeks ago, Michael and Dwight spent some time rooting around in a landfill that was distractingly phony. It may have been green screen, but it looked like they were standing in front of an out-of-focus photo with some clean trash in front of it.

  • Cathy

    That landfill in The Office was so hilariously phony! They were ten feet in front of some bad photos of garbage, for sure. I remember thinking that it didn’t look like any landfill I had ever been to, because nowadays they bury the trash immediately so it will stink less and won’t blow away.

  • Ide Cyan

    For me nothing beats the geography fail from the episode of “Human Target” titled “Sanctuary” that aired in February, which *claimed* to be set in a monastery in Québec, while showing majestic mountain ranges and cable cars from British Columbia *and* stock footage of an actual mountaintop monastery in Greece (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meteora), neither of which looks even remotely like anything in Québec, (nevermind the actual terrain around the town they claimed this monastery was close to: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port-Cartier). And that was just the first 15 seconds of the episodes.

  • Ide Cyan

    Remove the ). from the second link to make it work.

  • LaSargenta

    Where to begin? I think an appropriate questions might be instead “Which movies have you seen where the ocations looked like they should?” That would result in a shorter answer.

    In fact, considering I generally just put myself in ‘suspension of disbelief’ mode for locations and settings in movies and just wish that rather than filming on-location for anything, we go back to the days of a back lot with the same little street standing in for Paris over and over again.

    At least that way lots of carpenters would stay employed.

  • MaryAnn

    Ooo, another one I just thought of: Nome, Alaska as it appears in The Fourth Kind is nothing like the real Nome. Not that I’ve been there. But there are pictures.

  • In the 90s, “Frasier” was determinted to be the only show in which the lead character lived in an apartment he or she could afford.

    My favorite part of “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey” was when Bill and Ted are watching a Star Trek show and Captian Kirk runs up a hill away from a Gorn (?) and then an hour later Bill and Ted run up the same hill, at the same angle, from the bad buys. The shot was so precisely the same that it had to be a joke about filming Star Trek in California.

    My all time favorite TV bad setting was an “X-Files” episode. The heroes went to Okoboji for a case. As scene in the TV show, filmed in Canada, Okoboji has a mountain, vast forests of pine trees, a biker gang, a wolf pack, and one lonely fisherman.

    But I spent every summer at Okoboji as a kid. It is in Iowa; no mountains, no wolf packs, no motorcycle gangs (unless going to and from Sturges, which I believe is an annual motorcycle gang convention in South Dakota). It is surrounded by cabins, not trees, and filled with fishermen, jet skiers, and water skiers, probably the hottest spot for tourism in the state, not UFO sightings.

    I laughed so hard at that episode my cheeks hurt.

  • Joy

    Not recent, but the first time I noticed something that was just WRONG about a scene–in Die Hard with a Vengeance with Sam L Jackson….the big bridge scene. Supposedly in NYC. Nope, that is a bridge in Charleston, SC.

  • JosephFM

    Speaking of the Office…I have family in Scranton, and it’s patently obvious when they’re not filming there.

  • Der Bruno Stroszek

    I live so far away from the usual places films and TV shows are set that I rarely notice this sort of thing. I remember being impressed by I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead, with Clive Owen, for getting the feel of modern British suburbs and estates just right. The only thing that really annoys me is when you read that – say – the BBC’s recent Robin Hood series shipped all its cast and crew to Romania for location work. Because there aren’t any castles and forests in the United Kingdom, apparently.

  • Chris

    NCIS does a reasonably good job of subbing LA for DC

  • Fake locations don’t bother me as much as fake technology. I hate, hate, hate the way tv shows and films have all this fantastic equipment that just doesn’t exist and probably never will. It totally ruins my suspension of disbelief.

    But that trash dump in The Office was particularly bad, it was so obviously green screened!

  • Kenny

    Newbs… I hate CSI too.

  • Kenny

    There was an X-Files episode set in Arizona somewhere, and they just filmed in a disused quarry in Canada. Solution to rock colouration problem? Paint the entire quarry (the wrong shade) of red.

  • AJP

    Jackie Chan’s Rumble in the Bronx was clearly not filmed in the Bronx. (I think they filmed it in Toronto).

    The 1967 film Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre was not filmed in Chicago, a fact that it very obvious to anyone who has ever been there.

  • Muzz

    It’s a bit less personal than the question wants but I like reading about the interchangability (not) of Middle Eastern/North African locations compared to the real thing.
    I let most of them off the hook for doing it but it’s worth keeping an eye on. Soldiers who hate The Hurt Locker (partly) because east Jordan is nothing like Baghdad are getting too overwrought usually. But the architecture being completely different is worth keeping in mind all the same.

    Likewise, from pictures and other stuff I’ve seen it’s easy to see that Mogadishu is quite different from the Moroccan version in Black Hawk Down.

    Generation Kill shot in Nigeria from memory. I haven’t heard any opinions on how good a substitute it was. Depends who you ask I supose.

  • drewryce

    Year of the Dragon did a great job of making North Carolina look like Chinatown, NYC.

    The Unit, no matter where they were, it always looked like the San Fernando Valley.

  • Brian

    I didn’t see it myself, but a friend of mine mentioned that in the recent movie Eagle Eye, there’s a scene supposedly in our hometown of Indianapolis, IN. Shia LeBoeuf is told to go to a certain intersection in the movie, where he finds himself among skyscrapers. In the real Indianapolis, that intersection is in the middle of an artsy/yuppie-hangout district called Broad Ripple, in which the chances of finding a brew pub or an art gallery are about 1000% greater than any building above 5 stories.

  • JohnnyInc

    The landfill from “The Office” was very bad. It had Waaaaaay too many cardboard boxes and no birds. Even for a fake landfill, I find the lack of recycling in Scranton disturbing.

    I don’t think Beckett’s apartment on “Castle” is that bad. She might have a rich father or something. I think the apartment on “Friends” was harder to believe. Most of them were unemployed for most of the series and even when they had jobs they somehow managed to hang out in the coffee shop for several hours a day.

  • Erin

    Being from Melbourne, my suspension of disbelief during Knowing was particularly shattered when I realised the gas station where Nic Cage’s son is kidnapped from is the same place I fill up my car.

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