By Craig Leask
When winter arrives and we are all forced inside (particularly those of us who live in colder climates), who doesn’t like escaping to a good movie showing brilliant cloudless skies, crystal clear water, endless beaches and romantic sunsets? This article investigates films that show off the beauty and brilliance of sunny locations, carefree days and festival filled nights. These are most often not films that have the most brilliant writing or are multiple award winners, but they sure are pretty and enticing to watch. Listed by release date.
Swiss Family Robinson (1960)
Now, I know this one is a bit of a stretch, but you cannot tell me you didn’t watch this film as a child and think about how cool it would be to live in an over the top tree house on your own private tropical island, spending your days exploring, participating in ostrich races and outsmarting pirates.
The story follows the five Robinson family members, who are shipwrecked on a deserted tropical island enroute from Bern, Switzerland to a colony in New Guinea, escaping the Napoleonic Wars of the early 1800’s. Stranded, and needing protection from the menagerie of animals residing on the island, which included zebras, elephants, snakes, tigers, hyenas, giant tortoises, anacondas, two Great Danes and the afore mentioned ostriches, the family constructs an extravagant tree house complex for protection, complete with multi-cabin shelters, a water wheel providing running water, a crude refrigerator and even a pipe organ. As the family settles into their new home, the family patriarch (John Mills) determines that by returning to nature there is nothing else they truly need in life. As with the best laid plans, however, there’s always a gang of rogue pirates waiting in the wings to mess things up.
When Disney decided to produce Swiss Family Robinson, the initial plan was to film the project in their own in Burbank, California studios. As with any home shoot, this would have provided the great conveniences of in-house wardrobe, makeup and props departments, as well as complete control of all aspects of the sets, lighting and editing. Thankfully, after careful consideration, it was decided a locational shoot in a natural environment would ultimately produce a better film, and Disney was all about producing the best. An international search for locations was conducted including Ceylon (which became Sri Lanka in 1972), East Africa, Southeast Asia, the Pacific islands, Jamaica and Trinidad, before visiting the tiny nation of Tobago. When the team first landed on the island Tobago’s similarities to the film’s setting in New Guinea added to the location’s attractiveness and the Disney team knew then they had found a perfect candidate for their primary filming location. What finalized their decision was the discovery of a 200-foot-tall albizia saman tree in Goldsborough Bay. The mammoth tree had thick branches near the ground, which were structurally capable of holding the full crew and cast. Although the tree was a complicated place for shooting, as its foliage limited sunlight to only three hours per day, it was perfect in supporting the magnificent structure that was key to the story.
The tree house created for the film was scheduled to be dismantled once production had been completed but the local Tobagonians convinced Disney to leave the structure standing, allowing them to run it as a tourist site. Unfortunately, the entire structure was destroyed by Hurricane Flora in September 1963, leaving nature to reclaim its beloved saman tree. The tree still stands today and, at the time of writing, was still alive and located on property owned by the Roberts Auto Service and Tyre Shop, in the city of Goodwood.
In the film Richmond Bay was the prominent beach used for the initial ships landing and the set of the family’s protective fort. The aptly named “Shipwreck Bay” in Belle Garden” was used for the sinking of the Robinson’s ship, while Mount Irvine Bay was the setting of the confrontation with the pirates. The vine-swinging and waterfall scenes were filmed at the Craig Hall Waterfall in Moriah. Various other locations used in the filming included: Bacolet Beach, Hope Bay’s John Dial Beach and the Grange beaches; Pigeon and Richmond Points and the Goldsborough River.
As late as 2004 Disney had been considering remaking Swiss Family Robinson, but to date nothing has been announced. Like many remakes, the film would be geared toward finding a new audience, substituting CGI for the magical wonders of the original Tobago tree house.
Evil Under The Sun (1982)
Many Agatha Christie books which were turned into films in the 1970’s and 1980’s became star-studded travelogues to beautiful locations such as France and the legendary Orient Express (Murder on the Orient Express, 1974), Egypt (Death on the Nile, 1978), the English countryside (The Mirror Crack’d, 1980) and the Adriatic Sea, the setting for Evil Under the Sun.
After introducing each of the various guests, providing a glimpse into their personalities, situations and ultimately their motives, the murder of Arlena Marshall (Dame Diana Rigg) is revealed. Fortunately, Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Peter Ustinov) is one of the guests at the remote Mediterranean island resort and quickly learns the murder victim, a former actress, had managed to alienate everyone at the resort. It turns out that Arlena had walked out on a major play being produced by and Myra Gardener (James Mason and Sylvia Miles) causing great financial stresses. Additionally, Arlena has refused to provide a promised release to writer Rex Brewster (Roddy McDowall) for a tell-all biography of which he has already spent the advanced royalties. Staring alongside Dame Diana Rigg, Peter Ustinov and the aforementioned guests, the all-star cast also includes Maggie Smith as Daphne Castle, the proprietor of the hotel, which had been the former summer palace of the King of Tyrania. Daphne revealed she had received ownership of the palace from the king, “for services rendered”.
Following EMI Films successes with Murder on the Orient Express (1974) and Death on the Nile (1978), the decision was made to follow the same format of big stars and great locations and bring Evil Under The Sun to the big screen. Utilizing the proven talents of the team who had worked on the previous two Christie films, EMI retained Anthony Staffer (Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile) to write the screenplay and Guy Hamilton (The Mirror Crack’d) to direct. The extravagantly opulent 1930’s wardrobe was designed by Anthony Powell who had also worked on Death on the Nile for which he won the Academy Award for Best Costume Design.
Although Christie’s novel was set in the English County of Devon, Director Guy Hamilton suggested the Majorca location to mimic the allure of the previous successes in adding to the visual interest of the story. The aerial shots used in filming are of Sa Dragonera, an uninhabited island located off the west coast of Majorca. Cala d’en Monjo on the Balearic Islands was used for the exteriors of Daphne’s Hotel, which had originally been a private estate, since purchased by the Mallorca Island Council to develop into a natural park. The hotel garden scenes were filmed at the nearby Raixa Estate, and the Gull Cove beach and swimming scenes were filmed at the remote Cala en Feliu on the Formentor Peninsula. The beach of the murder scene is the Cala Blanca, Camp de Mar, on the Balearic Islands.
Evil Under the Sun is a gorgeous and witty film set to a beautiful 1930’s Cole Porter soundtrack and although not as successful as its predecessors, it is still a very fun visual and entertaining romp through a fun murderous weekend in the Spanish islands.
Shirley Valentine (1989)
Shirley Valentine is a 1989 British romantic comedy which follows forty-something Brit Shirley Valentine through a comedic mid-life crisis as she revisits and rediscovers the dreams of her youth and her innocent love of life. The film (and play) addresses the questions: “What happened to the high school rebel full of dreams of travel” and “when did I turn into this and he into that?”
Producer and director Lewis Gilbert created a beautiful re-imagination of Willy Russell’s stage play for the big screen. However, the glue that holds this witty and direct comedy together is entirely attributed to the believability and relatability of Pauline Collins and the life she breathes into Shirley Valentine. The audience can envision themselves in her situations and can relate to the sarcastic assessment of her life’s dreams and its realities. We understand her station in life and her questioning of “is this all there is?” and why she takes advantage of the opportunity presented to her of a fortnight holiday in Greece. The essence of the main character is enhanced in her important monologues where the lonely Shirley voices her thoughts with her kitchen wall or to a rock on the beach in Greece, as well as sharing certain insights with the viewers – “I talk to rock, but he doesn’t talk to me. He can’t you see, he’s a Greek rock. He can’t understand a bleeding thing I’m saying.”
The film ends with husband Joe arriving in Greece in search of Shirley as she is clearly not returning to her old life in Liverpool. Shirley, confidently wearing sunglasses and feeling like a different person, is sipping wine at her table by the sea, idyllically watching the sun set. Her husband Joe passes her, not recognizing the girl she used to be and the girl she has once again become. The final scene shows the two, silhouetted against the setting sun, drinking their wine in the country where the grapes are grown and becoming reacquainted.
The beauty of Shirley Valentine is in its grounding. Her life and her realizations and experiences through her Greek adventures are by no means Hallmark moments – and she knows this. Shirley Valentine is not a film about escaping reality into a fantasy, it’s about gaining strength through finding out who you really are and finding your own happiness. Shirley is not without her flaws and she accepts this wholeheartedly. With this self-deprecating knowledge, she can clearly see through the facades of others (her spoiled children, haughty neighbor, perfect schoolmate) and can sensitively make fun at them.
At the end of the film Shirley realizes that she has not fallen in love with her lover Costas or with Greece. Instead she has fallen in love with life once again. A beautiful lesson for all the Shirley’s out there who have lost that innocent youthful drive and that joy of life.
Shirley Valentine was filmed on location in Middlesex and Liverpool, England as well as in Mykonos, Greece where the title character comes alive. The iconic beach where Shirley sits realizing the dream wasn’t quite yet as it should be and the end where she waits on Joe’s arrival is now known as Shirley Valentine Beach, its real name being Agios Ioannis Diakoftis Beach in Mykonos. Also, in Agios Ioannis is Costas’ restaurant bar “the Sunset Tavernas”, overlooking the setting sun where Shirley fulfills her dream of drinking wine by the sea in the country where the grape is grown. The real restaurant is, at the time of writing called the Hippie Fish Restaurant.
Fool’s Gold (2008)
This one truly has it all: tropical location, crystal aqua blue waters, brilliant, cloudless blue skies, and good-looking leads all bundled together in a treasure hunt reminiscent of a classic Nancy Drew/ Hardy Boys mystery. Admittedly the movie is pure candy floss disguised as a romantic comedy, but there’s no better way to beat the February blues than to slip Fools Gold into the DVD player on a cold winter night and join the cast for a campy romp around the sunny Caribbean Seas!
The plot is fairly basic: well-built shirtless man and a beautiful bikini clad woman search for a lost treasure in the Caribbean Sea. Add a stunning yacht, a few stereotypical dim-witted hoods, some breathtaking scenery, and wrap it all up in an upbeat island soundtrack and you pretty much know what you’re in for.
The film stars Matthew McCaughey (as the shirtless Finn), Kate Hudson (as the bikini clad Tess), Donald Sutherland (as Nigel Honeycutt, yacht owner), and Kevin Hart (as Bigg Bunny, leader of the dim-witted hoods) and was filmed throughout Queensland, Australia for the land and beach scenes (Fraser Island, Hervey Bay, Port Douglas, Hamilton island and various locations throughout the Gold Coast) Eleuthera Island, Bahamas for the underwater diving scenes and, of course, the fabulous 138 foot ‘Penny Mae’, the luxury yacht christened ‘Gemma’. At time of writing, the Penny Mae, which sleeps 12 plus crew, was available for charter at a cost of $135,000/week
Naturally, most critics hated Fool’s Gold, using terms like “extravagantly stupid” when discussing the movie. But hey, going into this one you know you’re not getting Shakespeare. Fool’s Gold is what it was intended to be – a silly romantic comedy beautifully filmed in a tropical location.
Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
Forgetting Sarah Marshall opens in a Los Angeles apartment with music composer and very likable, but somewhat inept Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) being unceremoniously dumped by his actress girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell). It is a beautifully funny, yet poignant moment in which lead actor and first-time writer Jason Segel is naked throughout the entire breakup scene, exemplifying his vulnerability (Segel revealed to the New York Times, the naked breakup scenes were actually based upon his own experiences). The pronouncement is followed by an emotional breakdown, and weeks of weeping, moping and brooding. This scene communicates to the audience everything they need to know about Peter’s vulnerability and his mental state following Sarah’s proclamation. Finally, his stepbrother Brian (Bill Hader) suggests a vacation as the ideal prescription to forget Sarah Marshall and properly mourn the end of their five-year relationship.
It is on his Hawaiian beach vacation at the idealistic Turtle Bay resort in Kahuku on Oahu’s exclusive North Shore, where Peter learns he has inadvertently landed in a suite beside the one his ex Sarah is sharing with her new boyfriend, rocker Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Unexpectedly running into Sarah rekindles Peter’s weeping, moping and brooding. With the assistance of the hotel’s concierge Rachel (Mila Kunis), Peter begins to realize that his relationship with Sarah wasn’t as perfect as he had thought. Thus begins Peter’s journey of getting past Sarah and, through rediscovering who he is, starts to come alive again.
On Oahu, Peter initially spends most of his time on his own, but as he relaxes, he starts to interact and get out with the resort staff. He explores the beaches of Keawa’ula Bay and Mokuleia with some of the resort guests, takes up cliff diving with Rachael at the 30-foot-tall Laie Point cliffs ,takes surfing lessons from Chuck, who goes by his Hawaiian name Koodu (Paul Rudd) at Haleiwa in Waialua Bay, and even gets into a brawl at local hotspot ‘Lazy Joe’s’ as he attempts to defend Rachael’s honor.
Interestingly, as Peter begins to regain his self confidence, Sarah’s life starts to fall apart. Her TV show Crime Scene is cancelled and Aldous’s reveals that his band, Infant Sorrow, has scheduled an 18-month world tour, which causes a relationship ending fight between them.
Romancing the Stone (1984) Directed by Robert Zemeckis, staring Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner and Danny DeVito, filmed throughout Mexico, predominantly in Jalapa and Jalcomulco, Veracruz, which stands in for Columbia. The comedy-adventure follows romance writer Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) with the help of mercenary Jack T. Colton (Michael Douglas) on a rescue mission to save her sister who has been kidnapped by mobster “Ralph” (Danny DeVito). The successful film was followed by the sequel Jewel of Nile (1985) which was filmed in Mexico and Morocco.
The Mission (1986) Directed by Roland Joffé and starring Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons. Filmed throughout Columbia, Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil, The Mission follows a Spanish Jesuit who has been tasked with constructing a mission in the South American jungles to encourage the conversion of regional natives to Christianity.
Cast Away (2000) directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Tom Hanks and a Wilson branded volleyball (whom some say should have been nominated in the Best Supporting Actor category). Filmed in Monuriki, one of the Mamanuca Islands in Fiji, the movie follows the physical and emotional transformation of a marooned FedEx executive after crash landing on a deserted island.
Y Tu Mamá También (2001) Directed by Alfonso Cuarón and filmed in Mexico City and Huatkeulco, Oaxaca, Mexico, the coming-of-age film follows the maturing of two teen boys as they take a trip to a beautiful secluded beach in called la Boca del Cielo (translated to Heaven’s Mouth), accompanied by the attractive but unhappily married wife of their cousin. Throughout their road trip, they learn about themselves, life, friendship and sex.
Couples Retreat (2009) Directed by Peter Billingsley with an all-star cast including Vince Vaughn (who also contributed to the writing), Jason Bateman, Kristen Bell, Kristin Davis, Faizon Love, Jon Favreau and Jean Reno (as island psychologist Marcel). Filmed at the St. Regis Bora Bora Resort, in French Polynesia, the film follows three couples as they support their friends through marriage counseling on a tropical island.
From as far back as Craig can remember he has been passionate about architecture and the atmosphere that can be created through a well-designed building. In movies, he fulfills this passion by gravitating to films where the production infuses the location into the plot as one of the characters. Be it the long dark shadows of mysteries and haunted house films, to classics of the 40’s and 50’s set in big old houses, grand Italian plazas, or remote villages. It’s the locations Craig is drawn to, so much so that, on occasion, he has even been accused of overlooking plot failures and weak directing, having been so engrossed in the set design and location. What he hopes to accomplish with his writing is to share this passion and encourage others to see for the first time – or revisit – movies where the architecture plays as pivotal a role as a character in the plot.