Enchanting, exploding New Mexico
In the Oscar-nominated 2009 film Crazy Heart, New Mexico serves as both the Land of Enchantment and the Land of Redemption for the lead character, fading country-western star Bad Blake ( Jeff Bridges). Santa Fe never looked better— so much so that a local was heard to proclaim at a recent screening, “It’s beautiful. I want to live there!”
While Crazy Heart has picked up three Oscar nominations (the New Mexico-shot Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen got one too), many other movies shot here and released last year (some of which are still playing in local cinemas) depict New Mexico as a place where gigantic robots, cannibalistic human predators, witnesses on the run, and archangels congregate to cause mayhem. Here’s a partial list of films that were shot in the state last year and largely ignored by the Academy. (What gives?)
The Book of Eli Denzel Washington is the man carrying around one of the last Bibles on Earth, and the bad guys want it. Much of this sciencefiction film was shot in and around Carrizozo (population about 935), which benefited financially from the shoot. Dirk Norris, president of that town’s chamber of commerce, said the film company hired about 60 locals to work on the film, used one of the local junkyards to provide crushed cars, and “even rented a pile of red bricks!”
Carriers The 28 Days Later of New Mexico cinema, this postapocalyptic chiller is about young survivors of an avian virus who trek west in search of safety and a cure. Shot in 2006 and quietly dumped on the market last year, it’s actually a well-acted (albeit slow-moving) drama that fans of the genre will enjoy. And it once again proves that if you need a desolate wasteland for your film, there’s no better place than New Mexico.
Did You Hear About the Morgans? New Mexico doubled for Wyoming — but still looked like New Mexico— in this so-so comedy about a married but separated couple (Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker) who enter a witness protection program and find themselves milking cows and shooting guns in the still-wild-West. Hugh also bumps into a grizzly bear— then runs!
According to wildlife biologists, that’s the worst thing you can do in such a situation. You’re better off playing dead (like Elmer Fudd did in that old Bugs Bunny cartoon) or climbing a tree that’s at least 33 feet tall, because grizzlies can climb short trees. Plus those bears can run up to 30 mph, so carrying a ladder to help you get up a tree quickly is probably a good idea too.
Legion Shot really close to home (the main shooting location was in Galisteo, and Garson Studios on the College of Santa Fe campus was also used), this silly end-times/zombie-angel thriller co-starring Dennis Quaid and Sling Blade’s Lucas Black adds to New Mexico’s lengthy list of films about Armageddon and the apocalypse. It could have used a few more rewrites and brainstorming sessions before production began, though. The budget for this feature-length directorial debut by specialeffects veteran Scott Stewart (he worked on Harry Potter and the Goblet
of Fire, Red Cliff, and Iron Man, to name a few) came in at around $26 million, and with just $50 million in worldwide sales so far, Legion is a Sony production with middling success that will never meet the
box-office-busting numbers of another Sony film, Spider-Man (more than $821 million worldwide). But if Peter Parker’s handlers ever want to blow up the planet, New Mexico’s deserts— and its film crews— stand at the ready. In the meantime, Marvel’s Thor will be swinging its hammer around Santa Fe to shoot a few scenes beginning in March.
The Spy Next Door Albuquerque, playing itself in this film, is nearly indistinguishable from any other burg, because you rarely see it. With the tag line “Spying is easy, babysitting is hard,” it’s easy to assume that a good portion of this film was shot inside a cookie-cutter suburban Albuquerque home. In the film, Jackie Chan takes another stab at kid-friendly action by playing an undercover CIA agent who must protect his fiancée’s kids from Russian mobsters. Perhaps it’s better that Albuquerque pretty much fades into the background in this one. It’s a stinker.
However, Katharine Schroeder, a former assistant to Chan, kept a detailed photo blog of the star’s activities in New Mexico during the shoot, which you can view on Chan’s official Web site, jackiechan.com. According to the blog, primary location shooting of interior scenes took place not in an Albuquerque home, but at Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort & Spa at Santa Ana Pueblo. The Spy Next Door isn’t half as engaging as Schroeder’s blog is. For instance, did you know that Chan visited Santa Fe and bought a giant bronze pig and named it Truffles? Well, now you do.
Terminator Salvation The biggest explosion from this fourth big-screen installment of the 25-year-old Terminator franchise didn’t happen on the screen, but it still made a compelling piece of audio that turned actor Christian Bale into an instant YouTube sensation. Think of it as the multimillion-dollar hissy fit heard ’round the world. Despite Bale’s embarrassing public tongue-lashing of a director of photography, his poor acting, and the film’s near-total absence of fun, TS has still raked in more than $372 million worldwide. TS was filmed primarily in New Mexico at Albuquerque Studios, Taos, (specifically, the Río Grande Gorge Bridge), Kirtland Air Force Base, and Greer Garson Studios.
In it, New Mexico is indistinguishable from any other place that’s been cinematically blown to bits by robots from the future ... or is it the past? It’s confusing— ask the Decepticons. Halcyon Holding Corp., the company that owned the rights to the Terminator franchise during
TS’s production, didn’t fare too well after the film’s release, and filed for bankruptcy in August 2009. Last month, Halcyon sold the rights to the franchise to Pacificor— a California hedge fund— for just $30 million plus continued profits with the release of each new Terminator film ($5 million per picture). So yes, there’s still a chance that “He’ll be back.” But probably not in New Mexico, if the state’s film incentives fly the coop.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Despite an Oscar nomination for Best Sound Mixing and bragging rights for having one of the most commercially successful box-office runs of 2009, Michael Bay’s loud and eyeball-bludgeoning sequel to his 2007 hit Transformers is now getting attention for something else. It was announced last month that
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, or T:ROTF (tee-hee), has tied Land of the Lost for the most Razzie Award nominations this year (seven). Bay has long been held in high esteem among the architects of the Golden Raspberry Awards, given in an annual ceremony that recognizes the worst films of the year and is held the day before the Academy Awards. Bay has been nominated this year for worst director, and the film picks up noms for worst picture, worst actress, worst remake, worst screen couple, worst supporting actress, and worst screenplay. Regardless of box-office performance, critical praise, or lack thereof, there’s something cozily full-circle about the fact that so many post-apocalyptic-themed films have made use of White Sands National Monument — a region of the country where a real-life apocalypse moved closer to being such an easily attainable goal in the first place.
Year One When Pasatiempo movie critic Robert Benziker reviewed this film, he noted, “It’s always entertaining to see comedians clown their way through the ancient world, and even better when the ‘ ancient world’ is actually your backyard. Year One was filmed in such familiar locales as White Sands National Monument and Caballo Lake State Park. We’re used to seeing New Mexico on the big screen by now, but it tickled my fancy to see early man and biblical figures goofing off in the state.” The plot has something to do with cavemen meeting characters from the Bible. Incidentally, New Mexico played home to other prehistoric creatures during the Cretaceous, Jurassic, and Triassic periods, including Tyrannosaurus Rex’s distant cousin Albertosaurus, whose descendants eventually opened a chain of grocery stores. Somebody should film a movie in one of those! ◀
Book ’em: directors Albert Hughes and Allen Hughes with Denzel Washington doing location shooting in New Mexico for The Book of Eli
Distinguished Razzie recipient Michael Bay during the filming of
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen