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The Geek Life Road Trekking
To boldly go
By Robert T. Trate
January 18, 2012
The Geek Life is a weekly look at what is going on in the Geek Culture. Movies, Comics, Books, Video Games, and TV Shows encompass more than just release dates and reviews. This week, the Geek Life goes Road Trekking.
There are some movies and TV shows that capture more than our imaginations. We develop this need to see the actual places from our favorite movies and TV shows. Most of the time, these places exist only on stages or sets that are torn down after filming is completed. However, there are many movies/shows that take place in real locations, thus making a trek to said places a necessity for any movie geek. Having recently had the opportunity to travel across the United States, I took the time to visit as many as I could.
The Colonial Theatre
Location: 227 Bridge Street Phoenixville, PA 19460
Movie: The Blob (1950)
“It creeps and leaps and glides and slides across the floor” and its home is still standing. For over ten years, the Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville Pennsylvania celebrates the very movie that was filmed in its hallowed halls with Blob Fest (see the Colonial’s official page). An annual recreation of running out of the theatre is a must for local inhabitants and fans of this classic horror film.
The Philadelphia Art Museum
Location: 26th Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19130
Movie: The Rocky Saga
A right of passage for all native Philadelphians is to run the “Rocky Steps”. Those steps are actually for the Philadelphia Art Museum. If you are wondering where the statue of Rocky is and why he is no longer at the top, well, you can find him at the bottom now. It seems the museum thought the statue was a movie prop and not a piece of art. They might have been right as people run the steps every day, pose for pics with “The Rock”, and never go into the museum.
The Meteor Crater
Location: Meteor Crater is located off I-40 at exit 233, 35 miles east of Flagstaff, Arizona
Movie: Starman (1984)
John Carpenter’s Starman is one of the forgotten sci-fi movies from the eighties. Not his normal flare as this is more of a love story than anything. The crater itself is ripe with history. Apollo Astronauts trained there, and it is worth seeing for its grand spectacle.
The Griffith Observatory
Location: 2800 East Observatory Road Los Angeles, CA 90027
Movie: The Rocketeer (1991)
I picked The Rocketeer because my first visit to the observatory was at night and, instantly, I started to look for the Nazi Zeppelin. The Griffith Observatory has been used over and over again as a Hollywood locale. James Dean even has a bust erected there to him for Rebel without a Cause (1955). If those two films aren’t enough for a visit, the tunnel you travel through to get there is the tunnel to Toon Town from Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) as well as the one Doc and Marty chase Biff through in Back to the Future Part 2 (1989).
Location: Mount Rushmore, National Memorial, South Dakota
Movie: North by Northwest (1959)
After the beautiful restoration of Hitchcock’s classic to Blu-ray, I simply had to see where Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint ran across the Presidents’ heads. The actual location was only used for establishing shots and the rest were on set, but it didn’t matter to me. The actual Mount Rushmore does not disappoint. Many of the “establishing shot” locals are still there and the interiors (sets) are close enough for 50 plus years later. I was thrilled to see a trailer for the film running on a loop in the gift shop. Though, I did wonder if there was a secret room inside Lincoln’s Head like in from “Testimony of a Traitor “ from the Buck Rodgers TV show.
The Bat Cave
Location: Bronson Caves, Bronson Ave Los Angeles CA 90004
TV Show: Batman TV Series (1966-1968)
We’ve all seen it a thousand times, the Batmobile tearing out of the cave and off to save the day. The Bat Cave is very real and yet another famous real world location. Legend has it that the Bronson Caves were actually made for the original Robin Hood starring Douglass Fairbanks in 1922. The caves themselves have been featured in countless serials, TV shows (every Star Trek Series has filmed there), and movies. It is the Bat Cave, however, that comes foremost to mind.
The Golden Gate Bridge
Location: San Francisco, California
Movie: Star Trek 4 The Voyage Home (1986)
The Golden Gate Bridge more recently featured in Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011). It is also visible in any other movie filmed in San Francisco. It is a staple of any establishing shot for the city. My own little Geek trek required me to drive across the bridge where Kirk and Spock traveled on a bus. The whole city is ripe with locals, but those scenes alone made me not only walk across the bridge, but then drive it as well.
Lucasfilm HQ at the Presidio
Location: 1 Letterman Drive San Francisco, CA 94129
Movie: Star Wars Saga
All right, so this one is not really a movie location. It was a long a childhood dream of mine to visit Tunisia for both Star Wars (1977) and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981). It really isn’t the greatest region for tourists. Instead, I paid homage to the Yoda Fountain at the Presidio in San Francisco. The directions are vague on the web, but look for the Starbucks in the park and then walk around the building to the right. He’ll be there and instantly make you remember what it was like to be a kid and love Star Wars.
Location:900 Lombard St, San Francisco, CA 94133
Movie: Vertigo (1958)
Vertigo is only one of the great Hitchcock films set in San Francisco. Despite the interiors being filmed on a stage, the view of Coit Tower from Scotty’s (Jimmy Stewart) apartment is the real view at 900 Lombard Street. There is also the spot under the Golden Gate Bridge where Kim Novak threw herself into the water (again, a set) but the entire city of SF begs for Bernard Herrmann’s score to be played and walked through.
Location: Universal Studios - 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, California
Movie: Psycho (1960)
It is tease on the Universal Studios Backlot tour because you drive by it so quickly. Hopping out and grabbing a few pictures at the hotel or the infamous house are out of the question. However, you either need a private tour or to visit during Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights and you can do both. It’s amazing that 52 years have passed and both locations are still standing.
Location: 10700 West Escondido Canyon Road Agua Dulce, CA 91390
TV Show: Star Trek “Arena” (1967)
It is a famous location for TV shows and movies, but nothing is Geekier than Vasquez Rocks’ association with the original Star Trek series. To walk the hollowed steps where Kirk fought the Gorn is a Trekkie’s dream come true. Chalk up visiting planet Vulcan (Star Trek 4 and the latest Star Trek film) and the Planet of the Apes (2001) while at Vasquez Rocks.
Location: Monument Valley National Park, Utah/ Arizona
Movie: The Searchers (1956)
Director John Ford used Monument Valley so often in his westerns that its nickname has become Ford Country. It is a breathtaking trek through the desert but when those stone monuments emerge, it is as if you walked on set and John Wayne is only seconds away from riding in.
The Geek Life will never stop finding those crazy real world film locations. The road ahead will hopefully, one day, have the following:
Location: Devil’s Tower National Monument, Wyoming
Movie: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)
Admit it, any time you have a heaping mound of mashed potatoes on your plate you sculpt the Devil’s Tower. It looks as if aliens did carve it. Rest assured John Williams’ incredible score will be played at the base and the entire drive there.
Roswell, New Mexico
Location: Roswell, New Mexico
Movie: None Needed
It is steeped in controversy as to whether aliens actually crashed there or not. The documentary Six Days in Roswell (1998) peeked my interest even more as this could be the greatest collection of Geeks ever. I just have to time right my visit perfectly for those crazy Roswell celebrations.
The Grand Hotel
Location:Mackinac Island, Michigan, USA
Movie: Somewhere in Time (1980)
A bit on the sappy side, but what Geek deep down doesn’t want a love as true as the one Richard Collier (Christopher Reeve) had for Elise McKenna (Jane Seymour)? The only down side to visiting The Grand Hotel is that it is not cheap. Located on an island where no cars are permitted, it is a great throw back to the hotels of yesterday. If you are fan of Somewhere in Time it does have its own fan club and convenes to celebrate the movie at The Grand Hotel. Just be sure to leave all your pennies behind.
Location: New Zealand
Movie: The Lord of the Rings Saga
This is the big one. No other place on Earth is as synonymous with an entire series of movies as New Zealand. Your first step in visiting Middle Earth, besides saving your money, is to pick up Ian Brodie’s updated edition of "The Lord of the Rings Location Guide Book" (here on Amazon). Then you can worry about cloaks, swords, and Hobbit feet.
Where do you plan to Geek Trek to?
Robert Trate is the co-founder of FU Uno and has aspirations to be Cornelius for Halloween. In the mean time he writes three weekly columns for Mania: the DVD Shopping Bag, the Toy Maniac, and The Geek Life. Follow Robert on Twitter for his for Geek ramblings, Cosplay photos and film criticisms.