Tom Cruise will soon be heading this way again for the filming of the new Mission: Impossible movie, and Tourism NZ - not to mention the Glenorchy Cafe and numerous other local businesses - will be rubbing their hands with glee. More big-screen coverage of South Island scenery, more fans subsequently drawn here to experience it for real, more tourism money pouring in. All good, right?

For everybody else, yes, absolutely. Movie-goers around the world will be agog and gasping at Tom's usual outrageous stunts, with just a part of their brains registering the background beauty of the mountains and the lake. They'll leave the cinema afterwards gibbering about the daredevil feats; later they'll reflect on the gorgeousness of the locations, and the urge to see it for themselves will gradually become irresistible. I know the feeling: for me, because of Walter Mitty, I just have to get to Iceland.

What about us Kiwis, though, watching the movie here in New Zealand? For us, that familiar scenery is going to be a distraction from the action. So what if Tom is hanging by one arm from a helicopter — isn't that Mt Alfred down below? Yes, yes, he's skidding in a convertible, hotly pursued, across a long bridge — but that's the Dart River, isn't it?

Remember doing that jet boat tour along there? Do you reckon we'll catch a glimpse of the Earnslaw? What's the bet Tom's staying at Blanket Bay?


There will be no suspension of disbelief. We won't be able to enter fully into Tom's pretend world and have the fun of being swept along by the story. Our enjoyment of the movie — like the Tolkien epics and so many other films made here — will, inevitably, have the edge taken off by our familiarity with the locations. And you know what? The more you travel, the more often that happens.

London, Paris, Rome, New York; the Tuscan countryside, Iceland's bare fells, Hawaii's jungly cliffs — they're all spectacular, all fixtures on the tourist must-do list, and all instantly connected with afterwards when you see them on the big screen. That otherwise pleasing "Been there!" thrill of recognition: in the cinema, if it doesn't totally destroy the illusion the director has worked so hard to create, and for which you've paid good money, it certainly dilutes it.

Small price to pay for travelling the world? Of course: but consider too that it also works the other way around. You might be arriving in Los Angeles for your first visit to the US, looking forward to exploring — but, it turns out, you've seen it all already. The Hollywood sign, Santa Monica Pier, Sunset Boulevard, Venice Beach: they've appeared a million times on various screens back home. It's even more the case in New York, where every street scene is familiar and all that's missing are the characters from Friends, Seinfeld, 30 Rock or umpteen other TV series and movies.

It gives you a bit of a buzz to recognise the locations, but at the same time it sucks away all sense of novelty and surprise. It's as though some spoilsport has told you what's inside your Christmas presents.

Sometimes, the on-screen and real-life worlds can overlap in a suitably Inception manner. Walking across Brooklyn Bridge on my first visit to the Big Apple, to get the classic Friends view back towards Manhattan, I navigated my way to the platform beneath the bridge only to find it was off-limits. There, lying on the boards draped in slimy river weed, was a drowned mermaid, and gazing down at her with his lips pursed was Gary Sinise, in his CSI: New York incarnation.

It was enough to bring on an attack of derealisation. Fortunately, Gary's canvas chair was handy for a quick sit-down; and a banana from the laden craft service table, at the invitation of a bored extra, gave me enough of a boost to set me on my way back into the real world.

Returning equally unerringly to my hotel, I had to admit: the downside of having the novelty of a first visit spoilt by previous on-screen exposure is pretty evenly balanced by immediately knowing your way around, and feeling quite at home.