Recently, I started watching some newer Marvel films that I somehow missed, and it got me thinking about how easy it is with modern film techniques to completely change the filming location to one that suits the story better. Hollywood is no stranger to filming in a studio, with the majority of principal photography taking place on a sound stage or in a backlot somewhere, especially in the case of action movies with their complicated choreography and intricate stunt work. Just mix in some establishing shots of famous landmarks, a cliched drone shot of whatever city you’re trying to portray, and a tacky title card of the exact location and hey presto, an instantly reconcilable place that tells a story without any world-building.
Even better for a studio trying to find cheaper alternatives than shutting down an entire city block, is to turn pre-existing, cheaper locations into more famous places, or better yet, into entirely new worlds. This is particularly true for Marvel and DC who shoot cheaply in other countries outside of America and use the unique landscapes and features of that country to either stand-in for something else entirely or represent something that is completely original and previously unknown.
Changing one location to another is nothing new in Hollywood, and the film industry has become incredibly well-adapted and successful at turning one place into another. However, when the majority of blockbuster movies are set in the United States, the charm of the American towns and cities, its varied landscapes and rugged wilderness, and the very essence of America as a living breathing place has become so ingrained in our shared consciousness that these locations and places have become universal. So recognisable are some of these places that a large number of people, who have never actually travelled there, could easily recognise and describe these places in great detail based solely on the films and television they watch regularly.
This is not so when the film industry is so small and nuanced like in Australia, where the industry only creates a small number of films a year. So, when a Hollywood system searches for alternatives to the familiar, they go to other countries and change their distinctive landscapes into something that suits the film, without much consideration of how this affects the culture. This changing of locations to better suit the story has one major disadvantage for the country that’s being changed, and that is a detrimental loss of national identity.
Australian identity was forged via its cinema, and recently as American studios established a foothold here, this identity is becoming more and more lost as the years go by. As overseas production companies make ‘Australian films’ with an international market in mind, or they make American films with no need for the original location, they have unintentionally stripped away the very essence of what makes the film Australian in the first place. Thor: Ragnarok, Aquaman, Pirates of the Caribbean, and to a lesser extent Escape from Pretoria, are great examples of films that have watered-down the Australian culture, and this new ‘Global Hollywood’ has drastically diminished the representation of Australia’s uniqueness in the international stage by altering the landscape and language as they see fit.
This changeability that Australian locations have is a double-edged sword for the Australian film industry. On the one hand, it offers countless opportunities for Hollywood production companies to use the backdrop of Australia as something to be moulded to suit their needs, while on the other hand, Australian identity is lost in its cinema as American movies manipulate the footage to make Australian places look less like themselves and more like somewhere else. Although a small number of Australian films are still being made with an Australian audience in mind, the majority of the big-budget Australian films are now created with an international audience as their primary focus.
During the 70s and 80s Australian identity was forged on its screens as films continued to be made with an Australian audience in mind. Landscape and language were at the forefront of this shared cultural identity shift that was a major selling point to international production companies, particularly from America. As technology improved, so too did the ability to transform the Australian landscape into something other than itself, and with this focus on selling Australia as a blank canvas overseas, Australia no longer would be the idyllic scenery known only to the locals, but instead could now be chopped and changed to suit the desired needs of international filmmakers. Australian places were no longer considered only Australian, as on-screen locations that once forged an Australian identity would now be substituted as other places either real or imagined.
As the Australian government continues to lure American production companies to Australia with generous promises of funding and tantalizing tax incentives, Australian films will continue to be made with a global market in mind. The influx of international films made in Australia will no doubt increase the audience interest in its films and culture and will bring more studios to its shores, however, if these films continue to obscure the Australian scenery, and continue to remove the Australian accent from its films then Australian identity on-screen will succumb to an unfortunate fate; forgotten by the rest of the world. Australian identity that was once so prominent on the screen, which helps solidify our culture in the minds of an international audience, will be forever lost and possibly never return as a ‘Global Hollywood’ continues to turn the unique locations and landscapes of the world into generic and easily recognizable places for a mass audience to enjoy.