Dominic Corry 's Opinion

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things movie.

Dominic Corry: When movies mention New Zealand

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If the vaccine fails, Michael Caine, you're welcome in New Zealand any time. Photo / AP
If the vaccine fails, Michael Caine, you're welcome in New Zealand any time. Photo / AP

Auckland's Civic Theatre. 1991. Keanu Reeves is playing an action lead for the first time. He has tracked Patrick Swayze's bank-robbing surfer to Australia's Bells Beach. Swayze is pleading his case: he wants take one last ride on the once-in-a-lifetime waves crashing in the background.

"Hell, I'm not gonna paddle to New Zealand!" he exclaims. A sense of bemused pride fills the theatre while an appropriately small section of the audience applauds.

New Zealand's presence in the collective culture as expressed by movies has increased considerably since 1991 (when Point Break, the film referenced above, was released), but we still find ourselves squealing with delight every time our country is mentioned in a major film.

Well, I do at least. It is an undeniable thrill. Some sort of external confirmation that we do in fact exist. Somebody paying attention to us, even if it's just for a fleeting moment. I love it.

I got thinking about this sort of thing while watching the currently-in-cinemas Journey 2: The Mysterious Island. In the 1961 adaptation of Jules Verne's novel Mysterious Island, which bears scant resemblence to the new film, three Union soldiers escape from the American Civil War in a hot air balloon and end up crashing on the titular rock. One of them theorises that may have ended up in...New Zealand!

Alas there is no such moment in the current version. The 1961 film, however, holds up as a great boys own adventure with amazing creature effects by the legendary Ray Harryhausen, and would be very much worth showing to any kids (or kids at heart) who took an interest in Journey 2.

Watching Mysterious Island as a youngster was the first time I got a taste of the unique sense of pride that came with New Zealand being mentioned in a movie, and I hungered for more.

One of the more famous examples comes near the end of Michael Mann's 1995 classic Heat. Career criminal Robert De Niro is attempting to convince his girlfriend to go away with him and start over. Somewhere nobody will find them. Yep, New Zealand.

This view of New Zealand as the end of the earth colours some other instances. Such as in Irwin Allen's notorious 1978 turkey The Swarm, in which Michael Caine takes on a bunch of killer bees. Caine ponders the fate of the characters if the deus ex machina vaccine fails: "We might as well pack it in and ship off to New Zealand!". And you'd be welcome, Michael!

Sometimes Kiwi directors will slip in a little nod to our fair isles that can be easy to miss. In New Zealand-born director Martin Campbell's 1995 Bond film Goldeneye, a CIA agent played by Joe Don Baker makes tangential reference to some "spy satellites in New Zealand".

In Roger Donaldson's volcano thriller Dante's Peak (1997), a newspaper featuring a photo of the Ruapehu eruption and a headline reading "Devil Seen In Volcanic Ash Cloud Over New Zealand" can be spotted in the background.

Donaldson also inserted a Maori dance performance into his 1987 political thriller No Way Out, starring Kevin Costner and Gene Hackman. Remember the Te Maori exhibition? A key scene in the Goldie Hawn thriller Deceived (1991) occurs at the New York opening of the show.

Any film that has anything to do with the Antartic often finds itself with cause to mention good ol' N of Z, like the 2006 Paul Walker film Eight Below, which had several scenes set in Christchurch. The greatest result of this geographical proximity however has to be the one and only Ernest Borgnine mentioning New Zealand in the 1968 thriller Ice Station Zebra. Ernest Borgnine. The greatest man to ever say the name of our country out loud.

In casting local hero Zoe Bell in the lead as herself, Quentin Tarantino ensured New Zealandness would be front and centre for his 2007 film Death Proof. Not only is there a scene in which Bell is offended to be mistaken for an Australian, it has to be one of the only Hollywood films where one of the leads speaks in a New Zealand accent.

Unless you count the 1957 Paul Newman vehicle Until They Sail , which is about four New Zealand sisters being romanced by American soldiers in Christchurch and Wellington during World War II while the local lads were overseas. It was filmed on the MGM backlot with All-American starlet Sandra Dee affecting what I gather is supposed to be Kiwi accent. I caught part of this on TCM late one night and it made me feel weird.

One of my favourite recent New Zealand mentions came in the underrated 2011 French thriller The Big Picture, in which a bottle of Cloudy Bay wine plays a critical plot point and is repeatedly discussed. Hearing praise for a NZ wine in a French movie gave wings to my spirit.

The black and white flashback in Oliver Stone's JFK in which Donald Sutherland's shadowy character "X" reads about the President's assassination in the Christchurch Star is a doozy too.

What about you readers? Do you get a thrill when you hear New Zealand mentioned in a movie? Or is it kind of pathetic that I get so worked up about it? What other instances are there?

-nzherald.co.nz

Dominic Corry

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things movie.

One of New Zealand's most vocal and enthusiastic film critics for over ten years, Dominic's cinematic opinions can also be heard on radio and seen on television. His list of favourite movies is always evolving, but is generally likely to feature The Lady Vanishes (1938); Vertigo (1958); The Parallax View (1972); Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978); Aliens (1986); Midnight Run (1989); Metropolitan (1990) and Primer (2002). He also reviews snack food.

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