Abandoned Film Sets You Can Still Visit

Originally Published on Urban Times – Aug 2013

Recently it was revealed that the film sets of Tatooine in Tunisia will soon be destroyed. Not by a Galactic Empire Star Destroyer, not by a maelstrom of suspiciously racist, CGI Gungans and not even by the heinous crime of Greedo shooting first. The Star Wars prequel sets, which have been in the desert near Toezur since the 90′s, are about to succumb to the greatest galactic power of all, nature!  So I thought it would be interesting to see which other glimpses of Hollywood and it’s years of globetrotting are visible around our planet and to imagine how they will look to future civilisations chancing upon them. I prefer the ‘Lord of The Rings‘ attitude of build a set and then take away every scrap of production to preserve the natural beauty as apposed to The Beach method of ruining an idyllic location. However, some of these sets have provided homes or revenue for struggling communities and as long as they’re not damaging to the ecosystem there’s something wonderful about injecting them into the real world. So here are my Top 5 Film Sets on Location you can still visit;

1. Field of Dreams – The Baseball Diamond

So in a film where the plot involves the main character building a baseball diamond in the middle of a cornfield it was always going to be a struggle to actually find one for aerial shots, so they built one instead. Built across three neighbouring farms and now maintained as a tourist attraction at Field of Dreams Movie Site this one is an all American curio but probably won’t set too many alarm bells ringing for future archaeologists.

2. Popeye – SweetHaven Village Set

Nothing could be more bizarre to future historians than finding out that improvisational auteur Robert Altman made a big studio production of the bizarre comic strip, Popeye! Known more for his ensemble casts, acerbic wit and naturalistic characters and dialogue it’s hard to think of him directing a big budget musical version of the spinach guzzling sailor man starring Robin Williams in his first lead role but this actually happened. The film flopped and left a huge hole in the pockets of the studio but it also left a ramshackle but charming seaside village built by the studio on the coast of Malta nicknamed ‘Popeye Village‘. This has also been turned into a tourist attraction which probably makes more money than the movie with rides, boat trips and photo opportunities galore but how will future humans feel about it. It’s not too fantastical and so will probably be described as a cut off community of sea-dwelling folk who suffered from anaemia so had to store vast quantities of spinach beneath their homes!

3. Gunsmoke – Dodge City Set

We all know the look of a Western and the television series ‘Gunsmoke’ definitely had that look down pat. Using sets built in Johnston Canyon, Utah to stand in for the setting of Dodge City they managed to bring the Wild West to vivid life each week on screen. Nowadays it’s become even more of a cowboy stereotype by becoming a literal ‘Ghost Town’ in the middle of John Ford country which you can still experience driving along Highway 89. I’m hoping this one just confuses historians in the future as their timelines regarding the Wild West lifestyle in the USA was still going right up to the 1960′s and 70′s as the shows sets were built and then once again they were abandoned. I mean they’ll probably be more confused that people lived in homes made with plywood and with only facades but surely that’s part of becoming part of history is that we can really mess with our children’s minds!

4. Big Fish – The Town of Spectre

Just think what history books in the future would read like if more of Tim Burton’s sets or architectural ideas were left in the real world? Despite Big Fish not being his most outlandish film it’s definitely intriguing that out in the woods off the beaten track in Alabama the slightly off kilter town of ‘Spectre’ still stands as a monument to the tall tales told by Edward Bloom in the story. There’s a video on Youtube which shows some ramblers rambling through the set and visiting the buildings shown in the film all the while pointing out the plasterboard bricks, mold covered roofs and the odd health and safety means of keeping the larger buildings standing! Even during the daytime it’s a spooky environment and I don’t feel I’d be comfortable there in the dark but who knows what people will feel when they find it in twenty years but it would be more fun if they’d left the sets from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure up too!

5. The Lord of The Rings & The Hobbit Trilogies – Hobbiton

Some people believe the Bible is real and visit places on pilgrimage each year due to their significance in it’s sacred texts. Imagine if in a thousand years time people believed the Middle Earth tales were true and that Hobbiton, Mordor and Rohan really existed! I mean it’s not too far fetched as a lot of the geography is based on reality, the history of the Tolkien world is astonishingly rich and now there are real Hobbit homes littering the hillsides of New Zealand. I’ve always thought if we left enough miniature tools and contraptions under our floorboards along with little beds and lines of string then we could convince our grandchildren that The Borrowers exist and now Peter Jackson looks set to do that with Bilbo, Frodo and his merry bunch of adventurers too! It’s obviously a tourist attraction at the moment but I can see these becoming luxury apartments when the bourgeois get bored of the Mediterranean and The Maldives.

So there you have it, Hollywood has not only warped our fragile little minds by making us fear sharks, believe you can survive explosions by jumping or that all British men of a certain age are villains it’s also after our grandchildren’s minds too. Remember, you can get involved too by leaving bizarre clues and hints for your ancestors to find which could enrich their family history no end and even make people believe you’re a tooth collecting, time travelling, mutant powered, bat obsessed vigilante who also bought cheese to the civilised world, have fun!

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