Is It Just Me... Or Is Movie Geography All Over The Place?

Getting from A to B via Z

At the beginning of Trainspotting, Ewan McGregor and Ewen Bremner are both seen barrelling down Princes Street in Edinburgh, a pair of security goons hot on their heels. Seconds later, McGregor’s Renton takes some steps down to Calton Road, a good half a mile away from where he was previously.

How on earth did he manage that? Perhaps he has the same teleportation powers Pierce Brosnan employs in The World Is Not Enough to race his speedboat from the Houses Of Parliament in London to Tower Bridge in the space of an edit.

Or maybe he can do what Henry Cavill managed in The Cold Light Of Day recently: namely, take in three separate landmarks in Madrid, in different parts of the Spanish capital, within one single breakneck chase sequence.

There may be another answer, of course. It could be that, when it comes to car chases, fight scenes and other staples of action cinema, all vestiges of recognisable geography go right out the window.

Then again, it’s not as if action movies are the only culprits. In romcom Sliding Doors, Gwyneth Paltrow gets on the Underground at Waterloo and gets off at Fulham Broadway – a completely impossible journey, as anyone who’s tried to get across London in rush hour will tell you.

Now I know what you’re thinking. What kind of nerd watches a film picking apart its internal fabric, looking for flaws the vast majority of moviegoers would neither notice nor care about?

To which I’d respond: this kind of nerd! Seriously, though, what this sort of thing really highlights is an expedient sloppiness on the part of filmmakers that borders on the disdainful.

After all, what does it say about us? That we are all too lazy or ignorant to spot when they are literally cutting corners?

OK, so this is hardly a recent phenomenon.

In 1965’s The Sound Of Music, the von Trapps climb a mountain to get from Salzburg to Switzerland, a walk that, in reality, would take them into Germany.

And everybody remembers Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, in which Kevin Costner and Morgan Freeman trek from Dover to Nottingham via Hadrian’s Wall.

The problem is that, in this age of GPS and Google Maps, there’s no corner of the world that isn’t a few mouse clicks away. Which means that if films are going to play fast and loose with topography, they run the risk of being found out quicker than it takes Harrison Ford to get from Whitehall to Greenwich at the start of Patriot Games.

So here’s what I’d say to filmmakers. You’re not only making pictures for audiences in Wyoming or Tacoma. Some of your patrons will come from the places where you filmed and will notice when you’re cheating.

Don’t assume that every street, square and Tube station looks the same, or that people won’t care if you locate Notre Dame next to the Eiffel Tower.

Sometimes it’s the little things that matter the most. Or is it just me?

What's your favourite example of crazy movie geography? Let us know below


    • Gbouqueau

      Sep 30th 2012, 8:17

      I totally agree with you. Being French, I can't help feeling thrown of the film when I see what they've done to the Paris geography in GI Joe. In one shot they're going east, in the next, they're three miles away going west, it's completely crazy. That's not even mentioning that some streets I can't recognize as Prague was used for filming, just adding some French elements here and there like the cars. Awfull.

      Alert a moderator

    • Hadouken76

      Sep 30th 2012, 8:48

      I remember in Raiders of the lost Ark, the nazis were looking for The Well of Souls, they were totally digging in the wrong place! Who needs to enjoy films as whole, when I can be a smart arss pendant instead?

      Alert a moderator

    • writerdave87

      Sep 30th 2012, 10:56

      You want to be a clever necklace? :p

      Alert a moderator

    • Hebert1759

      Sep 30th 2012, 13:44

      I've noticed this before, but to me it's part of the dream-like quality of can't really call it lazy to move the production halfway across town to include different landmarks. It's a conscious decision to show different parts of a city so that the audience can take in the parts the filmmakers want to convey, or to at least keep the movie visually interesting.

      Alert a moderator

    • glennstgermain

      Sep 30th 2012, 14:00

      I remember a made-for-cable movie filmed right here in Edmonton, in which the main character's upscale downtown condo was in one office building and his corporate office was in another. Early in the film, he leaves his condo -- I recognized the lobby -- then walks down the street to his office... except the direction he was shown heading would have been *away from* his office had it been the real Edmonton.

      Alert a moderator

    • Hadouken76

      Sep 30th 2012, 15:39

      Oh I can't spell when I'm hungover lol :D

      Alert a moderator

    • writerdave87

      Sep 30th 2012, 16:37

      The irony of misspelling pedant was lovely :p

      Alert a moderator

    • pierceblot

      Oct 1st 2012, 2:31

      I'd rather see an interesting shot than a geographically accurate one if I'm watching a story. If it isn't a documentary, what's the big deal?

      Alert a moderator

    • owain197

      Oct 1st 2012, 8:17

      The Geography of Human Traffic is all over the shop. The best ones is when they leave the pub on Salisbury Road where they sing the new national anthem (used to be the Firedrake and Firkin at the time) they walk under a railway bridge and turn onto westgate street about a mile away.

      Alert a moderator

    • Monkeynuts30

      Oct 1st 2012, 11:42

      So you -want- your movies to be weeks long where they show every minute of tedious, boring travel then?

      Alert a moderator

    • prime43

      Oct 1st 2012, 17:04

      This is just another waste of an article. Yes move geography is all over the place. But this is done usually for timing reasons. Do you want an hour long scene of the characters in a taxi or on the tube? What next? Slating Snow White for not using actual Dwarves? Oh wait, someone already did that. Well how about slating Harry Potter for not using real magic! How dare they use CG!

      Alert a moderator

    • prime43

      Oct 1st 2012, 17:06

      Also some people seem to forget it costs money to use locations so most directors decide to use the landmarks as they are commonly associated with the city instead of paying a fortune to use a street not many people will recognise.

      Alert a moderator

    • senema

      Oct 2nd 2012, 11:11

      I don't mind when the geography is all over the place in the same city. However I mind when they try to sell one city as another. For example: In the A-Team Face is at the train station in Frankfurt but the overhead shot is of the train station in Cologne (you can clearly see the Dom). The two cities are not even next to each other. Or like in Sherlock - Game of Shadows, where they use a fictional Reichenbach Fall instead of the real one. These are things that I don't like.

      Alert a moderator

    • Senver

      Oct 3rd 2012, 12:27

      The worst example I have ever seen is Team America. The part where the terrorists fire a rocket launcher that hits the Eiffel Tower which then falls over and then destroys the Arc de Triomphe is quite frankly an affront to film making. I really hope someone got fired over that .......... ;)

      Alert a moderator

    • wkammler

      Oct 4th 2012, 5:25

      I live in Washington DC and since no films ever actually film here I see a lot of lazy inaccuracies. In the majority of shots of people going from one place into the city to another they add in the car going across one of the bridges with the monuments in the background. In reality, all the bridges in DC with monuments visible either lead straight into Virginia or Maryland, two completely different states. It happens all of the time and it's infuriating to watch.

      Alert a moderator

    • andersjohansson

      Oct 5th 2012, 2:42

      There is a scene in Unforgiven (1992) where Clint Eastwood is talking with Morgan Freeman mid way through the movie. Behind Clint are the foothills of the Kananaskis in Canada & behind Morgan in the same scene are the deadlands of Drumheller in Alberta Canada. These two locations are almost three hours apart from each other, they must have read their lines in each location.

      Alert a moderator

Most Popular