Pilgrims to movie mecca

By Graham Reid

Film a location and tourists will flock there, writes Graham Reid.

John Ford's Western 'The Searchers' was filmed in Monument Valley in Arizona, turning the landscape into a tourist drawcard.
John Ford's Western 'The Searchers' was filmed in Monument Valley in Arizona, turning the landscape into a tourist drawcard.

Hamad suddenly pulls us aside in the canyon between towering rock faces and says, "see", as he points to a gap in the path ahead.

"This is 'wow', right? Indiana Jones, yes?"

Well yes, it is wow and Indiana Jones because through the corridor of sheer stone we can see the breathtaking building carved from solid rock that appeared near the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

But this is actually Petra in southern Jordan, one of the great archaeological sites of the world. Here the Nabateans repeatedly fended off the Roman Empire before falling to their superior might, and within this secluded place surrounded by mountains a city grew up over centuries and was eventually abandoned after earthquakes shook its foundations.

Petra all but disappeared until the early 19th century when Swiss explorer Johann Burkhardt befriended local Bedouins and learned the way into it through this narrow canyon. It is one of the must-see places on the planet and most visitors to Jordan have it as their No.

1 priority.

However for modern travellers, whose world view is often shaped by movies and television, it is recognisable as a film set.

We live in the country of Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and are not unaware of how these blockbusters have defined New Zealand tourism. The characters appear on our stamps and on the side of our national airline, and we are forever being bombarded with statistics about how these films have been good for tourism.

Movies and television can create destinations that we want to go to. And often it's not the travel shows that affect our decisions.

In the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-Saint Paul, people go to Nicollet Mall and mimic the statue of Mary Tyler Moore throwing her beret in the air; in New York City there are tours of sites in The Sopranos; and Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code was the best thing that ever happened to the curious Rosslyn Chapel, just outside Edinburgh.

It's done such a booming trade since the book and movie that they've been able to undertake long-overdue restorations.

The Hawaiian island of Kaua'i has been used for so many movies it has 4x4 tours so you can stand at the gate of Jurassic Park, and where Elvis got married at the end of Blue Hawaii.

Of course we should always visit important places and tourist traps because that have great cultural significance or are just "very cool", but even traditional sites come with movie references: Monument Valley (John Ford Westerns), the Eiffel Tower (A View to a Kill), the Petronas Towers in Singapore (Entrapment), the Burj Khalifa in Dubai (Mission Impossible IV: Ghost Protocol), Mt Fuji (The Last Samurai with Mt Taranaki doing an excellent stand-in job for Fuji) and the Empire State Building (choose your King Kong).

And how many people would have known about abandoned Hashima Island near Japan if it hadn't been for the latest Bond flick Skyfall? (Although it wasn't the real Hashima and was located near Macau for dramatic effect.)

So is it Brideshead or Castle Howard, Downton Abbey or Highclere Castle, Hogwarts or Alnwick Castle? Films and television have added another dimension to tourism and travelling: people want to visit the set of Coronation Street because it has been a real place for them all their lives.

One afternoon in Hastings, on England's southeast coast, a woman pointed to the door of a corner house and said: "See that? That's where they film Foyle's War. He comes out that."

I'd never seen that television programme, and still haven't. But I've got a photo of the door.

- NZ Herald

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