Top Ten Landscapes of the Silver Screen - Page 2

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Devil's Tower, Wyoming
MASHED POTATOES MADE REAL: Wyoming's Devil's Tower National Monument  (Wyoming Tourism)

5. Location: Devil's Tower, Wyoming

Movie: Close Encounters of the Third Kind

In Steven Spielberg's 1977 sci-fi drama, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, line worker Roy Neary—played by Richard Dreyfuss—is psychologically haunted by a series of mountain-like images. It's not until later that Neary discovers his visions depict a real place: Devils Tower, a monolithic, volcanic neck rising 1,267 feet above its northwest Wyoming surroundings. Both a U.S. National Monument and a sacred site for many American Indians (who refer to it as "Bear Lodge," Tree Rock," or "Bear's Lair"), the geological formation is as magnificent as it is desolate; a stark tower of rock spotted with cacti and sagebrush and a summit the size of a football field. If aliens do exist, you can bet they'll be landing here.

For a real treat, spend an evening at Devils Tower KOA campground, where Close Encounters of the Third Kind screens nightly.

4. Location: Bodega Bay, California

Movie: The Birds

We can thank the Master of Suspense Alfred Hitchcock for our slight apprehensiveness around winged creatures, especially when visiting Bodega Bay. The small California fishing village 70 miles northwest of San Francisco served as setting for his 1963 horror thriller, The Birds, and remains a favorite spot for film buffs and of course, birdwatchers. Its coastal location and large rocky inlet makes it an ideal stop-over spot for migrating shorebirds and waterfowl.

While Bodega Bay and neighboring Bodega have retained much of the same look and feel that Hitchcock captured in his picture, only a few of the actual filming sites remain. One is the Tides Wharf & Restaurant, where Tippi Hedren's character Melanie Daniels joins others in seeking shelter from dozens of swooping birds. Though still in operation, the establishment has since been remodeled and rebuilt to the point of being unrecognizable. The restaurant's parking lot became the gas station that birds managed to indirectly blow up, though the actual explosions took place in a Hollywood studio.

However, it's Bodega's Potter School that draws the most crowds. Serving as the schoolhouse that was a prime target of the mysterious bird attacks, today it's a private residence. On most weekends the owners host a small museum and shop, and even offer stuffed crows-for-rent for embellishing souvenir pictures.

3. Location: Sicily, Italy

Movie: The Godfather

New York. Lake Tahoe. Las Vegas. The most widely respected mob dramas of all time, Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather trilogy is associated with several key filming locations, but it's the Corleone family's fatherland in Sicily that makes the must-see list for any true movie buff. The small Sicilian community, Savoca, substitutes as the film's Corleone (an actual Sicilian town, but already too commercialized in the 1970s to serve as its 1940s self), where Al Pacino's character Michael seeks refuge after killing a cop and a drug kingpin in The Godfather. Once in Corleone, Michael finds love with a local woman named Apollonia. He asks for her hand at the village's stone-flagged Bar Vitelli, and marries her at the nearby church of Santa Lucia; their wedding procession takes place on the cobblestone path that stands between.

The medieval hilltop town of Forza d'Agro also appears in the trilogy. The church of Sant'Agostino is featured in Godfather II, when Robert DeNiro's Vito Corleone makes his daring U.S. escape after killing the man responsible for his father's death.

2. Location: Southern Tunisia

Movie: Star Wars

With its vast salt lake, troglodyte dwellings, and Saharan landscape, southern Tunisia proved the perfect setting for director George Lucas' vision of Tatooine, a desert planet of humans, Hutts, Jawas, and the sand people that appear in every Star Wars film except The Empire Strikes Back. While the location itself is impressive, it's the Star Wars' props, stops, and background scenery that attract film-pilgrims worldwide.

Southwest Tunisia's Chott El Jerid is home to Luke Skywalker's igloo-like residence in the original Star Wars. This same structure was dismantled and rebuilt, eventually appearing in the final shot from Revenge of the Sith. The set for Mos Espa—a Tatooine spaceport of dome-roofed adobes, including Watto's junk shop, and the pod-racing arena from The Phantom Menace—remains intact. And the village of Matmata, known for its underground cave houses, is where you'll find Hotel Sidi Driss, an operating hostel that served as the Lars Homestead. The owners host a small Star Wars museum and overnight stays are welcome.

1. Location: New Zealand

Movie: The Lord of the Rings

Step one foot in New Zealand, and you'll know why director Peter Jackson chose his homeland as filming location for The Lord of the Ring trilogy's Middle Earth: abundant greenery, lofty mountains, and deep waters all give the land of kiwis a fairytale feeling. For the best that Middle Earth has to offer, Jackson took full advantage of the country's two largest islands.

On the North Island is Hobbiton, part of Middle Earth's peaceful Shire region. Jackson created the village on farm land outside Matamata, about a two-hour drive south of Auckland. The earth-carved hobbit homes remain and though empty, are accessible. Further south is Tongariro National Park, where the digitally altered Mount Ngauruhoe stood in for Mount Doom. And just outside the city of Wellington is Mount Victoria, whose forested spots were recast as Hobbiton Woods. On New Zealand's South Island, the Southern Alps provide the most extensive Middle Earth scenery.

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